Post Tagged with: "horry county government"

Will the Deep Six Continue to Allow the Administrator and Attorney to Embarrass Horry County?

March 25, 2019 4:26 AM
Will the Deep Six Continue to Allow the Administrator and Attorney to Embarrass Horry County?

A specially called meeting of Horry County Council tonight is scheduled to discuss renewing the contract of county administrator Chris Eldridge, which expires April 21, 2019.

What is really to be discussed here is whether council members expect Chairman Johnny Gardner to continue to have attempt to work with Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti after those two were unsuccessful in an attempt to smear Gardner even before he took office on January 1, 2019.

Six council members, Harold Worley, Dennis DiSabato, Tyler Servant, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus and Bill Howard, the Deep Six as I call them, voted against firing county administrator Chris Eldridge on March 5th, after the results of a SLED investigation cleared Gardner of allegations of wrongdoing lodged by Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti.

Three of them, Worley, DiSabato and Loftus, claimed the results of the SLED investigation did not warrant firing Eldridge. The other three, Crawford, Servant and Howard, didn’t even have the courtesy to explain to the collected citizens viewing the proceedings their reasons for voting as they did.

Gardner said he has no confidence in either Carotti or Eldridge.

“People will never understand how difficult it was for me to remain calm and move forward with the business of the county with those allegations against me,” Gardner said. “But, I knew I didn’t do anything wrong and I trusted in the system, a criminal justice system I have been a part of for over 30 years, to conclude the truth. Now, after a SLED investigation exonerated me of any wrongdoing, I find that the administrator and attorney tried to rig the investigation against me.”

Through emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by media, we know as early as December 12, 2018, Carotti and Eldridge in concert with former chairman Mark Lazarus were constructing a version of conversations, none of which any of the three were part of, in order to allege  wrongdoing by Gardner.

Carotti authored a five-page memo based entirely on hearsay. The memo was completed December 19, 2018, and Eldridge forwarded it to SLED December 20, 2018 after the memo was leaked to a Columbia media outlet.

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SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

March 17, 2019 3:47 AM
SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

By a 4-1 decision, the S. C. Supreme Court overturned decisions at the District Court and Appeals Court levels giving SkyDive Myrtle Beach the opportunity to prove its case in court.

The details of the case have never been heard as Horry County was successful at using some legal hocus pocus at the lower court levels to keep from allowing the case to go forward.

That is not the result now as the case, SkyDive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County et al, has now been remanded back to the District Court and will go on the trial roster with discovery pending immediately.

This means the case, once described by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti as “rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs,” was not treated in that fashion by the Supreme Court.

Referring to SkyDive Myrtle Beach owner Aaron Holly, myself and others, Carotti wrote the following to a council member inquiring about the case:

“On Aug 15, 2017, at 11:24 AM, Carotti, Arrigo wrote:

The misrepresentation of facts and the law has been ongoing on the part of Mr. Holly, misguided bloggers, and Holly surrogates for several years now, involving universally unsuccessful litigation by Holly, and pending litigation against the FAA, the State of South Carolina, Horry County, officials and employees. There have been no new admissions, the FAA’s and County’s sound positions in the matter remaining the same.  Defamatory commentary on the part of Holly and his surrogates also has been ongoing and is expected to continue, but has been rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs, borne out in voluminous court documents and public records.

Arrigo P. Carotti / County Attorney”

The original case was filed on February 28, 2014 against Horry County under the general court classification “Unfair Trade Practices.” It alleged a pattern of harassment by the County and its Department of Airports (HCDA) with the ultimate goal of removing SDMB from Grand Strand Airport (GSA) as the original complaint states:

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County Council to Address Magistrates Pay Dispute

February 18, 2019 7:27 AM
County Council to Address Magistrates Pay Dispute

Horry County Council will decide tomorrow night whether to resolve a pay dispute between the county magistrates and the county government.

The dispute dates back to the Fiscal Year 2017 budget which began on July 1, 2016. During budget deliberations nearly three years ago, Horry County Council decided to approve a pay raise of 3% for all county employees.

Magistrates are state constitutionally mandated positions appointed by the governor upon the recommendation of the local legislative delegation. However, they are county employees paid for from the county general fund.

The county receives a portion of magistrate pay each year from the local government fund in the state budget. The local government fund is designed to help counties fund state mandated positions.

Historically, the S. C. General Assembly underfunds the local government fund, which is supposed to be funded according to a specific formula.

According to information received by Grand Strand Daily, the General Assembly mandated an approximately three percent pay raise for county magistrates in its FY 2017 budget and raised appropriations in the local government fund to pay for that raise.  

According to state law, counties cannot reduce the amount they pay employees in state mandated positions when the state gives those employees a raise. By not specifically excluding the magistrates from the county raise of three percent for “all county employees,” the magistrates claim they were entitled to both the county and state raises.

However, the magistrates received only the raise mandated by the state. Despite county council budget discussions and votes, the magistrates were excluded from the county pay raise. According to several sources in county government, administrator Chris Eldridge made the final decision to exclude the magistrates from the county pay raise.

The magistrates are asking the county for a retroactive three percent raise and a lump sum check for nearly three years of missed wages.

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Searching for A False Narrative

January 3, 2019 8:47 AM
Searching for A False Narrative

False narratives appear to have become the standard emanating from some county government officials pursuing personal agendas over the past few years.

The latest is the five-page narrative crafted by county attorney Arrigo Carotti, with some input from county administrator Chris Eldridge, which attempted to place new council chairman Johnny Gardner involved in a nefarious plot that never happened.

Local editorial cartoonist Ed Wilson captured the essence of what went on between Eldridge and Carotti perfectly in the editorial cartoon accompanying this article. Once again, Wilson has demonstrated that a picture is worth 1,000 words.

The two examined snippets of conversations either or both had been party to with Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation CEO Sandy Davis to attempt to find incriminating evidence against Gardner. As Wilson depicts, the search was quite literally to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Eldridge used this bit of creative writing on the part of Carotti as an excuse to call in SLED to investigate. The narrative was also conveniently leaked to a Columbia media outlet to sensationalize the narrative.

This is not the first time a false narrative has been used as a county tactic to attempt to create a certain image in media.

One only has to read the county’s response and counterclaims, as amended, in the Angie Jones lawsuit against Eldridge and the county to view another example.

As I quoted from the amended response and counterclaims in the Jones lawsuit, the county said, “If Jones has any alleged “issues” with regard to staffing and competently and efficiently performing her duties as the Horry County Treasurer, such issues are solely as a result of her mismanagement of her offices and her own decisions, including her decisions to drive out and remove and replace competent long-term employees with friends and political supporters lacking in relevant experience.”

The bit about doing favors for friends and political supporters is strikingly similar to allegations against Gardner.

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Horry County’s ‘Alternative Facts’ Explanation on Tax Notice Billing

August 28, 2018 7:39 PM
Horry County’s ‘Alternative Facts’ Explanation on Tax Notice Billing

It appears Horry County Government is using the Sean Spicer/Kellyanne Conway ‘alternative facts’ method for reporting how Horry County missed billing property taxes on some new car purchases over the last four years.

According to a story reported in MyHorryNews.com earlier today, Horry County failed to process digital records on 4,444 vehicles purchased between 2014-2017, resulting in failure by the county to bill first year property taxes on the vehicles.

According to the story, County spokesperson Kelly Moore blamed the failure on a “technical glitch” and was quoted as saying in part, “New software programs come with a learning curve, and sometimes, unfortunately, with technical difficulties.”

Horry County Auditor Lois Eargle was quoted in the same story, “That was nothing that was fault of the auditor’s office. …  It was the new software that came in.”

The Auditor’s Office is responsible for preparing property tax bills on new car purchases that do not transfer license plates from another vehicle and for entering that information into the computer system.

A letter was prepared by the Auditor’s Office to be sent to the citizens affected by this issue.

The letter, the full text of which is attached to the bottom of this story, reads in part, “We recently discovered an error in the processing system that manages vehicle property taxes. After changing software in 2014, a technical glitch did not send an initial vehicle tax bill to some taxpayers who purchased a new vehicle when they did not transfer license tags.”

The new software was purchased from QS/1 Governmental Solutions whose headquarters is located in Spartanburg, SC.

Reflecting on the story and the county’s explanation of a “technical glitch” that apparently took four years to discover, I called QS/1 Governmental Solutions for an explanation. I spoke with Perry Burnett, Government Senior Account Executive, the QS/1 employee who deals directly with Horry County Government.

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Is Further Expansion of SWA Landfill Needed?

August 4, 2018 8:00 AM
Is Further Expansion of SWA Landfill Needed?

The Horry County Solid Waste Authority’s latest plan to extend operations at the Hwy 90 landfill until approximately 2050 appears to have sprung out of nowhere in recent months for no apparent reason.

At a recent board meeting, SWA Executive Director Danny Knight told board members the latest expansion plan was moving forward because it was the authority’s responsibility to maximize the use of available land at the Hwy 90 site for waste disposal.

Actually, that statement runs counter to the ordinance that established the SWA in December 1990. Ordinance 60-90 states there is a need to develop an acceptable alternative for solid waste disposal and to reduce the amount of tonnage disposed in sanitary landfills in Horry County. It further states the high water table and other geologic characteristics in Horry County “make utilization and expansion of the existing landfill and development of new landfills especially expensive and difficult.”

Through the years since the authority’s opening in 1992, that section of the ordinance has been forgotten or ignored by a succession of SWA staff and board members.

The timeline set by the SWA for what is being called “Piggyback Expansion Phase III” hopes for a permit for the expansion to be issued by SCDHEC in June 2019 even though Piggyback Phase II is only now under construction and Phase III will not be needed until 2040 at projected disposal rates.

Why the rush? Shouldn’t the SWA staff and board members be seeking alternative means of disposal of the county’s solid waste?

The answer to the first question is not available to the public and not known by county council members, only a few of whom have recently become aware of these expansion plans.

The answer to the second question is “Yes” only if the SWA board and staff believe it is their responsibility to obey the law that established the authority in the first place. To date that has not been the case.

And what of the cost? It was only 18 months ago that the SWA projected a $33 million shortfall in needed funds by 2024 unless it received a nearly 50% increase in tipping fees. County council approved an immediate $7 per ton increase with additional $1 per year increases as the SWA needs them.

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Who are the Real Thugs in Horry County?

June 11, 2018 8:56 AM
Who are the Real Thugs in Horry County?

The above cartoon by Ed Wilson depicts the now famous incident that resulted in Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus calling police and fire fighters in the county “thugs.”

Lazarus called them thugs because several first responders asked him tough questions at the Burgess Community Forum last week, then, heckled Lazarus as he walked out of the meeting.

The use of the word “thug” by Lazarus was ridiculous because its normal definition refers to violent, criminal type behavior none of which was in evidence at the forum.

The term “thugs” was also given to anti-war protesters during the 1960’s and anti-nuclear protesters throughout the western democracies in the 1970’s.

I would submit the term “thug” can also be applied to those in government who use their position and power to bully people or ignore the law to achieve desired results.

For example, after Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones request for an additional person in her office was denied by a combination of council members and the county administrator, Jones filed suit to gain the position.

The county’s response to the lawsuit was to attack Jones’ credibility and performance personally, a typical bully (thug) type of response.

Early this year, several council members said Lazarus was not going to intervene to attempt to help settle the case amicably, but was willing to let it go to court for resolution.

When Jones walked out of a council meeting after the discussion ventured into the area of her lawsuit, Lazarus was quite critical with several derogatory comments aimed at Jones. However, when discussion at a political forum entered into an area that made Lazarus uncomfortable, he had no problem walking out.

Does anyone else find that hypocritical?

However, that attitude appeared to change after Johnny Gardner filed to challenge Lazarus for the Republican nomination for county council chairman and it was apparent Jones had significant support from the public for her lawsuit.

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Johnny Gardner Drawing Crowds to Campaign Events

May 23, 2018 5:33 AM
Johnny Gardner Drawing Crowds to Campaign Events

Pictured above Johnny Gardner addresses crowd at a campaign event.

Over 250 people attended a Meet and Greet for First Responders hosted by the Johnny Gardner Campaign for Horry County Council Chairman last night.

The above estimate of crowd size was derived from the number of meals served at the event. And the food was excellent – Low Country Seafood Boil and BBQ with all the fixins’. Entertainment was provided by local Bluegrass music celebrities McRoy Gardner and Friends.

A large number of first responders – police, fire and EMS personnel – came from all over Horry County to attend. Officers, both active and retired, residing in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, Garden City, Socastee, Carolina Forest, Conway and the rural areas of the county all made the trip to Conway for the event.

I met one retired police officer who is a relatively new resident in Horry County. He retired after 26 years with the Randolph Township, (NJ) police department. Initially he and his wife lived for 10 years in North Carolina before relocating to Horry County for their golden years.

Why do I mention this? It demonstrates the reach of the Gardner campaign.

After speaking to him it turns out we graduated from the same high school in Rockaway, NJ and grew up within a couple miles of each other, but, with a nine year age difference between us, never met until last night. This officer is a strong supporter of Fraternal Order of Police National President Chuck Canterbury, a retired HCPD officer, who is a strong supporter of Gardner.

Canterbury and Rob Mullaney, President of Horry County Professional Fire Fighters Local 4345 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, both spoke to the crowd.

Each mentioned the lack of support Horry County Police and Fire/Rescue departments have received from Horry County Council as numbers in the ranks of both departments have suffered attrition due to the lack of sufficient staffing in each department.

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Fourth Circuit to Hear Oral Arguments in Skydive Myrtle Beach Appeal

February 18, 2018 6:00 AM
Fourth Circuit to Hear Oral Arguments in Skydive Myrtle Beach Appeal

A complaint brought by Skydive Myrtle Beach against Horry County Department of Airports has been tentatively scheduled for oral arguments before the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA May 8-10, 2018.

See extract of official electronic notification here:

A quick recap of the case:

In early 2014, shortly after Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB) reported to the FAA of discriminatory actions against it by the Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), HCDA and other Horry County officials apparently decided they wanted to eliminate SDMB from operating in Horry County.

Tandem skydiving is a recognized and approved use of publicly supported airport facilities by the Federal Aviation Administration. It is illegal for an airport that accepts publicly funded grants, as HCDA does annually, to discriminate against one type of approved aviation activity, say helicopter operations, over another – tandem skydiving.

In 2014, HCDA began circulating stories about alleged safety violations committed by SDMB while it was operating out of Grand Strand Airport.

In October 2015, Horry County government ultimately evicted SDMB from Grand Strand Airport using a 73 page FAA Director’s Determination as justification. It is the findings in the FAA Director’s Determination that is on appeal before the Fourth Circuit.

Much of the Director’s Determination report was based on 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB and quite unofficially and sloppily documented by HCDA and its tower operator at Grand Strand Airport, Robinson Aviation.

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 actions taken by HCDA on the alleged 112 violations.

Likewise, Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti wrote in an email response to FOIA requests seeking information on the 112 alleged violations that, “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.”

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Attorney for Angie Jones Hits Core of County Lawsuit Argument

January 8, 2018 8:08 AM
Attorney for Angie Jones Hits Core of County Lawsuit Argument

Gene Connell, attorney for Treasurer Angie Jones in her lawsuit against county government, hit at the core of the county’s argument in its answer and counterclaim to Jones’ complaint.

In a Motion to Strike certain portions of the county answer, Connell wrote, “…such allegations have nothing to do with the case, nor with Jones’s request of this court and are only meant to defame and/or to be scandalous to the Plaintiff,” and addressing another allegation “Defendant only seeks to impugn the Plaintiff’s character.”

These statements hit at the basic core of the county’s argument. Certain members of county staff and county government have become imperious in their attitudes toward disagreement, criticism and anyone who dares to challenge them.

Connell is correct in that the county has ignored the essence of Jones’ complaint and has chosen to seek revenge on her for filing the lawsuit by attacking her personally.

‘Attack’, ‘revenge’ and ‘fake news’ have quickly become a staple part of political lexicon in America today to the detriment of American style government and the citizens it is supposed to serve.

Many of our supposed leaders forget they were elected to serve, not anointed to rule.

Frankly, all Jones is attempting to do is attain enough employees to provide the level of service the citizens of the county expect and deserve.

According to state law, employees of the Treasurer’s Office and level of service fall only in the purview of the county treasurer.

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