Post Tagged with: "horry county government"

Discovery Imminent in Skydive Myrtle Beach Case Remanded to District Court

October 13, 2019 7:42 AM
Discovery Imminent in Skydive Myrtle Beach Case Remanded to District Court

Discovery requests for production of documents, answers to interrogatories and depositions will go out very shortly in the lawsuit that Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB) filed against Horry County, the Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), Robinson Aviation and numerous individuals associated with those entities.

After hearing arguments by the opposing parties in the case last spring, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed prior decisions by the Fifteenth Circuit Court and S. C. Court of Appeals and remanded that case back to district court for trial.

In October 2015, Horry County government evicted Skydive Myrtle Beach from Grand Strand Airport using a 73 page Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Director’s Determination as justification. Much of the Director’s Determination report was based on 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB.

The alleged safety violations were recorded on a form generated by the HCDA, called an “Unusual Incident Report”. They are one page reports signed either by HCDA staff members or Robinson Aviation personnel. In one case, five alleged violations were reported by letter to the FAA from former HCDA Director Pat Apone.

No record of any action, other than the filling out of these forms, by either HCDA or Robinson Aviation, the contracted tower operator at Grand Strand Airport, was taken. It appears the forms were created to establish a paper record of alleged safety violations with no backup investigations to support the allegations.

These forms were the ones county attorney Arrigo Carotti provided in response to an FOIA request. Along with that response was a cover letter by Carotti which stated in part, “These records are provided in an abundance of caution, in that each may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.”

On at least three occasions since the Director’s Determination was published, the FAA has admitted in email correspondence regarding Freedom of Information Act requests that it has no documentation with respect to investigations, fines or other information on the alleged 112 violations.

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Supreme Court May Address Merits of Skydive Myrtle Beach v Horry County et al Case

October 7, 2019 9:01 AM
Supreme Court May Address Merits of Skydive Myrtle Beach v Horry County et al Case

The S.C. Supreme Court notified both attorneys in the Skydive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County lawsuit that they have been afforded the opportunity to file supplemental briefs with the Supreme Court addressing the merits of the entire case.

The order, signed by Chief Justice Donald Beatty, was filed two days after a September 24, 2019 hearing of the parties before the Court.

The September 24th hearing was scheduled to address whether a claim by the county that the issue of the county’s eviction of Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB) from Grand Strand Airport in October 2015 was in fact “moot” as the county claimed.

Attorney Mike Battle, representing Horry County, told the court during his oral argument that the decision before the Court was of a very limited scope.

Evidently the justices don’t see it that way.

The order from the Chief Justice reads in part, “The briefs filed with this Court only address the issue of mootness. … this Court may wish to address the merits of this case. Therefore, this Court will afford each party the opportunity to serve and file a supplemental brief addressing the merits.”

The order goes on to say any supplemental brief must be filed within 30 days of the date on the order, September 26, 2019, and no briefing in response to any supplemental brief filed will be allowed.

The merits of the case have never been litigated.

The Supreme Court has heard arguments before it on two occasions regarding aspects of the case.

The first hearing, held last spring, dealt with whether the District Court erred in removing individual defendants from the case. The S.C. Court of Appeals upheld that decision but the Supreme Court reversed it and remanded the case to District Court for trial with the individuals included with Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports and Robinson Aviation as defendants.

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Parker Campaign Stumbles Out of the Gate with Unpaid Taxes and Media Comments – Updated

August 18, 2019 11:36 AM
Parker Campaign Stumbles Out of the Gate with Unpaid Taxes and Media Comments – Updated

Update

Horry County records show Clark Parker paid the three unpaid tax bills referred to below on August 19, 2019.

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Like a racehorse losing a race by stumbling out of the starting gate in his first steps, we may have witnessed the beginning and effective end of the Clark Parker campaign for Horry County Auditor on the day it began.

Parker had his campaign kickoff last Friday. It began with an interview published on the MyHorryNews.com website.

In that interview, Parker said he felt that he could “contribute a lot to the needs of the county” and that it was “important that we collect all our taxes that are due to the county.”

Shortly thereafter it was reported by MyrtleBeachSC.com that Parker had three unpaid county tax bills from tax years 2012, 2017 and 2018. That information is public information available on the horrycounty.org website.

One would expect someone running for public office, especially an office that deals with county taxes and a person who is a certified public accountant by trade, would double check to make sure there are no skeletons in their closet.

There are additional problems with the interview. Parker announced he is running for auditor yet it is the treasurer, not the auditor, who is responsible for collecting taxes. He wouldn’t be involved in that end of the county tax structure so why mention it in an interview?

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County Government Fault Lines Exposed on Fire Department Morale Issue

July 12, 2019 6:42 AM
County Government Fault Lines Exposed on Fire Department Morale Issue

The exchange at Tuesday night’s council meeting between council member Danny Hardee, Fire Chief Joseph Tanner and Deputy Chief Jack Walker highlighted some of the problems that must be fixed in the inner workings of Horry County Government.

Speaking as a point of personal privilege, Hardee talked directly to the top two fire department officials about morale and other personnel issues within the department.

As Chairman of the county’s Public Safety Committee, Hardee was trying to do the right thing, but he did it the wrong way.

Under state law governing the county’s council/administrator form of government, Hardee should have been addressing administrator Steve Gosnell, not the heads of a county department. The following extract from Title IV of state law applies:

“SECTION 4‑9‑660. Authority of council and its members over county officers and employees.

Except for the purposes of inquiries and investigations, the council shall deal with county officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the county administrator solely through the administrator, and neither the council nor its members shall give orders or instructions to any such officers or employees.”

Hardee was not speaking to the two fire officers as part of any formal inquiry or investigation. According to his own statement, Hardee was speaking from notes he took from informal meetings he has held with fire department personnel in various fire stations throughout the county.

There was a breakdown of protocol at several levels as Hardee spoke. Council Chairman Johnny Gardner should have gaveled down Hardee for being out of order. He did not.

Administrator Gosnell should have told Hardee such a conversation should be held between the administrator and council member, but not during a regular meeting of council as it involved employees who work for the administrator, not council. He did not.

County Attorney Arrigo Carotti should have told Hardee the conversation was not proper under state law and that such remarks should be addressed to the administrator during a meeting between the administrator and council member, otherwise legal issues could arise.

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County Council to Vote for Status Quo – UPDATED

July 9, 2019 5:11 AM
County Council to Vote for Status Quo – UPDATED

UPDATE

As predicted below, Horry County Council voted to award the administrator position to interim administrator and longtime county engineer Steve Gosnell, thereby opting for maintaining the status quo rather than bringing in someone new who may actually look for ways to fix some of the problems within the county.

Only council chairman Johnny Gardner voted for someone other than Gosnell, thereby keeping a campaign promise to strive for positive change in who county government really represents and works for.

Gosnell will essentially be a placeholder while he finishes his final 18 months to two years needed to qualify for full retirement. Council members who work for special interests rather than the interests of the general population in the county will find no staff roadblocks during Gosnell’s tenure.

It is not a coincidence that the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce introduced its new propaganda campaign supporting construction of Interstate 73 on the same day council voted for Gosnell.

County council member Harold Worley orchestrated the vote for Gosnell to be named administrator and this reporter has been told that Worley will lead the effort, albeit probably behind the scenes, to find county funding for I-73 even if it means a new tax on county residents.

The propaganda onslaught has just begun to convince county voters that funding I-73 is much more important than fixing current infrastructure problems; much more important than providing sufficient public safety staffing; much more important than managing runaway development and much more important than mitigating against future flooding.

Some of those mouthing such propaganda may even believe it, but the real motivating factor behind I-73 funding is the profits a relatively few local ‘good ole’ boys’ will realize from the project. To those ‘good ole’ boys’, Horry County residents are merely portable ATM machines from which to draw the tax dollars to provide the profits.
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Another Hospitality Fee Filing, Another Email, More County Lunacy

July 2, 2019 1:21 PM
Another Hospitality Fee Filing, Another Email, More County Lunacy

The City of Myrtle Beach filed a supplemental memorandum Monday in support of its lawsuit against Horry County’s continued collection of hospitality fees.

Leading the memorandum is an affidavit by North Myrtle Beach City Manager Michael Mahaney providing evidence of the county’s continued collection of the hospitality fee in the City of North Myrtle Beach after June 21, 2019, and supporting a June 26, 2019 motion by Myrtle Beach for the county to show cause why it was not in contempt of a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Seals on June 21, 2019 prohibiting same.

Included in the filing was an email originated by attorney Henrietta Golding who is representing the county in the lawsuit.

The email appears to have evolved out of the string of emails that were the subject of several media stories yesterday. The email that appears to have started the string was sent by former county council chairman Mark Lazarus to Golding.

In her email, Goldings criticizes the judge and the temporary restraining order the judge issued against the county for having “many errors”; states, “This is solely the fault of Myrtle Beach” and appears to discuss the county’s strategy in moving forward by saying the county will try to get a “supersedeas” and saying “if the county took steps to suspend the ordinance (creating the hospitality fee), then probably create legal issues detrimental to the county.”

Golding’s email was sent to Lazarus, county council members Johnny Vaught, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant and Dennis DiSabato, interim administrator Steve Gosnell, county attorney Arrigo Carotti, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley, Mahaney and Surfside Beach City Manager Dennis Pieper.

The choice of recipients is confusing as Golding only represents six – the four council members, county administrator and county attorney. Lazarus has no official position with the county since his term ended December 31, 2018. Hatley, Mahaney and Pieper support the position of Myrtle Beach that the county has been illegally collecting the hospitality fees since January 1, 2017 when the original sunset provision of the county hospitality fee ordinance expired.

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Time to End the County’s Hospitality Fee Lunacy

July 1, 2019 11:11 AM
Time to End the County’s Hospitality Fee Lunacy

Events occurring over the last week served to magnify the need for the county and the cities to get past the lunacy that has developed over the county’s efforts to continue collecting a countywide Hospitality Fee that is in all likelihood now illegal.

Myrtle Beach initially filed a lawsuit against the county “for itself and “similarly situated plaintiffs” on March 21, 2019 stating its claims against the county’s continued collection of the hospitality fee and requesting a temporary restraining order on the county’s continued collection of the fee while the case was being litigated.

After District Court Judge Seals issued a temporary restraining order on the county’s continued collection of a 1.5% hospitality fee within the City of Myrtle Beach and “similarly situated plaintiffs”, on June 21, 2019, the cities expected the county to stop collecting the fee within their jurisdictions.

Last Tuesday, the county dashed those expectations by sending out an email announcing it would only stop collecting the fee within Myrtle Beach and would continue to collect it in the other cities in the county as well as the unincorporated areas.

This led to outrage from North Myrtle Beach officials who called the county’s continued collection of the fee within their city “illegal.” In addition, Myrtle Beach filed a new motion requesting the county be required to show cause that it was not in contempt of the judge’s order.

With the angry rhetoric flying, a special meeting of county council was called for June 29, 2019 at which council was expected to vote on a recommendation to suspend collection of the fee within the cities until the lawsuit was settled.

Instead, council convened, immediately went into executive session where, according to sources with knowledge of the discussion, county attorney Arrigo Carotti and attorney Henrietta Golding, representing the county in the case, urged council to “stay the course” and continue collecting the fee in the other cities until ordered not to by the Court. In addition, the attorneys reportedly told council the judge had used the wrong standard of review in making his ruling. Golding filed a request for reconsideration of the ruling and was prepared to take the issue to the S. C. Supreme Court where, she told council, she expected the restraining order would be overturned.

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Horry County Bungled Hospitality Fee Issue

June 28, 2019 7:00 AM
Horry County Bungled Hospitality Fee Issue

Horry County officials look like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight with respect to a Hospitality Fee issue that county government has bungled for at least the past three years.

In a MyHorryNews.com story yesterday, council member Johnny Vaught tried to pass off the latest brouhaha over the continued collection by the county of a 1.5% hospitality fee in every city except Myrtle Beach as a “mistake” because of a misinterpretation of a June 21, 2019 judge’s temporary restraining order.

The order, signed by Judge Seals, suspended collection of the hospitality fee by Horry County in the “City of Myrtle Beach for Itself and a Class of Similarly Situated Plaintiffs,” as the lawsuit is titled.

Additionally, the order denied a request by Horry County that a temporary restraining order be placed against the cities with respect to collection of new accommodations and hospitality taxes the cities respectively passed and are scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2019.

One of the county’s arguments in requesting a TRO against the new city taxes was that they would illegally exceed local hospitality and accommodations tax limits mandated by state law when taken in conjunction with the county hospitality fee.

The city hospitality and accommodations tax ordinances were passed in accordance with entirely separate sections of state law and have nothing to do with the uniform service charge hospitality fee in question, a point I’m not sure county officials entirely understand.

The new city hospitality tax is collected on prepared food and beverages only. The countywide uniform service charge hospitality fee is collected on accommodations, prepared food and beverages, admissions and rental car fees.

On June 25, 2019, the county sent an email to the cities stating it would continue to collect the 1.5% hospitality fee everywhere except within the city limits of Myrtle Beach where it said collection of the fee was temporarily suspended pending final settlement of the lawsuit.

The county’s email immediately caused an outcry from the other cities in the county, led by North Myrtle Beach, which issued a statement saying the county was attempting to continue to “illegally” collect the hospitality fee in the other cities.

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Horry County and Illegality are Becoming Synonymous

June 27, 2019 10:44 AM
Horry County and Illegality are Becoming Synonymous

For the past week, Horry County and illegal have been combined in local media headlines about several issues..

Wednesday was a banner day for the county in such actions. Not only did Jay Bender, the preeminent legal authority on the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, say county council conducted an illegal executive session but also lawyers for the City of Myrtle Beach went to court requesting the judge to find the county “in contempt of the authority of this Court” for apparently violating a court order issued last Friday with respect to the county’s continued collection of the Hospitality Fee.

The actions that led to executive session were well orchestrated. After council member Johnny Vaught made the motion to go into executive session, council chairman correctly called it out of order because no executive session was listed on the agenda. County attorney and council parliamentarian Arrigo Carotti jumped up to say under Robert’s Rules of Order, a motion for executive session was proper.

What Carotti never addressed were the requirements of the FOIA law, which made executive session illegal in this case, according to Bender’s statement. Shouldn’t the county attorney and parliamentarian have addressed those requirements before ruling executive session legal?

As Bender pointed out, this is at least the third time this year Horry County has not adhered to FOIA requirements. Unfortunately, the FOIA law has no teeth. There are no consequences for the county if it chooses to ignore the law, which it does when necessary.

While Vaught stated some reasons for executive session that sounded shaky at the time, he accomplished his goal in keeping the interviews of candidates for the administrator position out of the public eye.

I submit Vaught did not want the public to be able to compare the candidates’ respective presentations, especially make comparisons with his chosen candidate Steve Gosnell. In that Vaught was successful even if it took an illegal executive session, which Carotti ruled appropriate, to accomplish it.

The Hospitality Fee issue is one that could affect the county significantly. Last Friday, Judge Seals ordered a temporary restraining order, which prohibits the county from collecting hospitality fees within the at least the city limits of Myrtle Beach and quite probably in any of the incorporated municipalities.

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County Chairman Statement on Administrator Search Public Interviews

June 21, 2019 6:05 PM
County Chairman Statement on Administrator Search Public Interviews

(Ed. Note – Below is a statement released earlier today by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner outlining the interview process for the permanent county administrator position. Gardner pledged open and transparent government as well as change in the way the government was responsive to the needs of citizens when he was elected last year. While he has met opposition from some council members in effecting change and transparency, this process is designed to help those goals along. It is hoped citizens will take the opportunity to attend the below mentioned meeting, watch it online or on television, or view the recording after it is available on the county website.)

Citizens and Friends,

I wanted to share a few things with you as council is coming to the important interview process for the permanent county administrator position.

This has been an arduous process. After council took the decision to have an open application process for the position, several council members attempted to subvert the process by effectively attempting a coup to appoint our interim administrator to the permanent position before even considering the qualifications of other potential candidates.

I opposed this attempt as not in the best interests of the county and our citizens.  After knowledge of this attempted coup became public, many of council backed away from the initial plan but several members continue to work this strategy behind the scenes.

The county administrator is the top administrative official in county government. As such, the person holding that position sets employee policy and oversees the effective day to day running of the county. The administrator is also responsible for providing guidance to council, when requested, on a potentially broad range of topics. As such, I believe the administrator should have knowledge of the legislative process, the budget, potential legal issues and the many goods and services the county provides with the help of staff members of his choice to assist him.

When you, the citizens, elected me last year, you voted for change in the way the county is run. The perception was that too many decisions were being made by a few at the top with little consideration of all the potential facts and considerations that should go into those decisions.

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