Post Tagged with: "Horry County"

Status Conference Set in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owners Lawsuits

April 17, 2018 4:28 AM
Status Conference Set in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owners Lawsuits

A status conference has been set for next month in federal tort claims lawsuits brought individually by the 11 co-owners of Skydive Myrtle Beach against Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Robinson Aviation, the operator of the control tower at Grand Strand Airport, and a host of individuals including all members of Horry County Council.

The status conferences are scheduled for May 17, 2018 at the federal court house in Florence, SC.

Each of the respective 11 lawsuits claim conspiracy among the defendants to deprive the respective owners of his Constitutional rights with respect to 14thAmendment protections, for interference with the business, Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB), and contractual ties between SDMB and HCDA in order to illegally shutdown SDMB.

The Magistrate Judge previously ordered discovery in the lawsuits to go forward last fall. The status conferences could be where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, with regard to 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB, which were used as the basis by HCDA to close SDMB down.

Skydive Myrtle Beach is a tandem skydiving business owned and operated by armed forces service veterans.

It began operating its business in Horry County in 2012 after signing an eight year lease with Ramp 66, the county’s general aviation operator of Grand Strand Airport at that time.

After Horry County government bought out Ramp 66 in 2013, it appears that concentrated efforts were made by HCDA to close down the operations of Skydive Myrtle Beach.

In early 2014, shortly after Skydive Myrtle Beach reported to the FAA of discriminatory actions against it by the Horry County Department of Airports, the HCDA began circulating stories about alleged safety violations committed by Skydive Myrtle Beach while it was operating out of Grand Strand Airport.

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

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Efforts to Debunk Karon Mitchell Lawsuit Flawed

April 7, 2018 4:48 AM
Efforts to Debunk Karon Mitchell Lawsuit Flawed

(Ed. Note – Some negative reactions heard locally to the Karon Mitchell lawsuit are like the Chinese fireworks pictured above – loud and colorful but, in the end, just smoke.)

On April 5, 2018 at 3:05 p.m., Karon Mitchell filed a lawsuit against the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC), the City of Myrtle Beach and Horry County alleging misuse of tourism development fee (TDF) and accommodations tax (ATax) public funds.

In response to the lawsuit, MBACC issued a blanket denial of the allegations and at least one local television news outlet in the area attempted to, in its words, “fact check” the allegations.

The MBACC response came in a media statement issued April 6, 2018, by board chair Carla Schuessler:

“Today we had an opportunity to review the lawsuit that was filed against us, and l am disappointed to see that we will have to divert our time and resources to address this case which is full of conjecture, innuendo and inaccurate statements. The Chamber complies with all applicable laws regarding the use of public funds and selects vendors based on best business practices.”

The Chamber statement went on to say it will hold a press conference next week to accurately address the statements in the lawsuit.

The local news outlet broadcast a story April 6, 2018 where it claimed to find discrepancies, between claims in the lawsuit and MBACC public disclosure documents, with respect to public money spent with what are called in the lawsuit “crony companies.” According to the lawsuit, crony companies are companies formed by former and/or current Chamber employees and, in at least one instance, a company owned by a MBACC executive board member.

This appeared to be much ado about nothing as the MBACC public disclosure documents used generic descriptions instead of specific vendor names for some of the expenses listed. If those challenged expense amounts did not go to any of the crony companies, next week’s MBACC press conference can “accurately address” those statements and tell us exactly what company did receive the payments.

Another area addressed in the media story was a statement in the lawsuit that “the chamber funneled tourism tax money through the crony companies to contribute to politicians supported by the chamber.” 

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Horry County – A Fork In The Road

March 11, 2018 4:34 AM
Horry County – A Fork In The Road

(Ed. Note: This article was published in Alternatives Magazine nearly 20 years ago, four years before Marion Foxworth was the District 3 member for Horry County Council. It is reprinted here with permission from the former owner of Alternatives. It made interesting reading then and is even more so today. Carolina Forest was in the very early stages of changing from a tree farm to the most densely populated area in the unincorporated county. I would contend we have headed down the retirement community fork, with tourism on the wane, as witnessed by controversies over bike weeks and adult entertainment, the decline in golf, amusement parks and other entertainment venues as well as continuing issues with infrastructure and public safety. One only has to look at the history of the last 40 years in St. Augustine, FL to see the trend being repeated in Horry County.)

Quite a bit has been said and written about the tremendous growth that we have seen during the last few years.  Both Horry County and the City of Myrtle Beach have undertaken extensive efforts to establish updated comprehensive Masterplans.  The local daily newspaper devoted countless columns to a series entitled ‘Living in a Boom Town’. And most recently, residents have turned out in record numbers in an effort to influence the direction taken by various governing boards and regulatory agencies.

As a lifelong student of public policy and as an observer of the political environment of South Carolina, I have to opine that we are coming upon a very definitive moment in our history.  In short, Myrtle Beach, the Grand Strand and Horry County are at a fork in the road.  Which direction we take will determine the type of community we have for generations to come.  It also will determine how many of us will make a living and support our families.

The Fork in the Road is represented by two extremes.  The fork to the left is one that the direction is dictated by those in power and positions of influence who would have Horry County become ultimately a ‘live-in theme park’.  This option would be marked by a continuation of the tremendous building boom of late.  Pine trees would continue to fall in record numbers.  Our beautiful natural settings would give way to additional growth as our rivers would one day resemble the current ocean front.

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New Year Brings New Hope and New Challenges

January 2, 2018 5:49 AM
New Year Brings New Hope and New Challenges

A New Year traditionally brings with it new hope and positive feelings about the year ahead.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus commented in a Facebook post on New Year’s Day about making 2018 a year of positivism. I hope Lazarus is able to achieve that positivism in county government.

This year will be interesting with three new members recently elected to Myrtle Beach City Council, including a new mayor, and seven council members up for re-election for Horry County Council including Chairman Lazarus.

But it takes more than hopes and feelings to achieve positive results in government. It takes hard work, transparency and proper goal setting to get the most “bang” for each “buck” collected from the taxpaying public.

Both Myrtle Beach City Council and Horry County Council have been lax in this area in years past.

Maybe the most important thing both councils have to remember is the citizens elect them to make decisions that benefit the community as a whole. Council then directs staff to carry out these decisions.

Too often, this process has become muddled with certain council and staff members working behind closed doors to benefit special interests at the expense of the general public. This is at least part of the reason Myrtle Beach has three new members of council.

Below are just a few of the actions by city council that the public voted against in November:

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Judge Orders Discovery in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owner Lawsuit

November 19, 2017 4:19 AM
Judge Orders Discovery in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owner Lawsuit

A federal magistrate judge has ordered discovery to go forward in a lawsuit brought by Aaron Holly against Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Robinson Aviation, the operator of the control tower at Grand Strand Airport.

Holly claims conspiracy among the defendants to deprive him of his Constitutional rights with respect to 14th Amendment protections and for interference with his business, Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB), and contractual ties between SDMB and HCDA in order to illegally shutdown SDMB.

A short historical perspective on the relationship between Horry County Department of Airports and Skydive Myrtle Beach follows:

Skydive Myrtle Beach is a tandem skydiving business owned and operated by armed services veterans.

It began operating its business in Horry County in 2012 after signing an eight year lease with Ramp 66, the county’s general aviation operator of Grand Strand Airport at that time.

After Horry County government bought out Ramp 66 in 2013, it appears that concentrated efforts were made by HCDA to close down the operations of Skydive Myrtle Beach.

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 to discriminate against one type of approved aviation activity, say helicopter operations, over another – tandem skydiving.

The only excuse allowed by the FAA for shutting down approved aviation operations is that those operations contribute to an unsafe environment at the airport.

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No Safety Violations Proven Against Skydive Myrtle Beach

August 29, 2017 9:11 AM
No Safety Violations Proven Against Skydive Myrtle Beach

It is now apparent that Skydive Myrtle Beach was shut down from operating at Grand Strand Airport on the basis of safety allegations that were never investigated, much less proved.

For whatever reason, county officials (council members, staff or some combination thereof) decided they wanted to shut down Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB). The only way they could do that and not violate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Grant Assurances was to claim safety violations.

And this they did, sort of.

Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA) staff and Robinson Aviation employees, who were contracted with HCDA to operate the Grand Strand Airport control tower, created 112 “Unusual Incident Reports” (UIR) of SDMB alleged safety violations over a nearly two year period.

HCDP sent these UIR’s to the Federal Aviation Administration as documentation of safety violations. According to responses to FOIA requests by both Horry County and the FAA, none of these alleged incidents was ever investigated by HCDA and only one, number 86 on the compilation record, was investigated by the FAA.

Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti responses to two FOIA requests: 

“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.” 

And

“Enforcement was held in abeyance due to pending litigation.” 

No investigation of any of the incidents was ever conducted by HCDA or other Horry County agencies.

The FAA found NO VIOLATION in the case of number 86, which occurred on May 31, 2015.

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Another Twist in the Skydive Myrtle Beach Controversy

August 19, 2017 12:30 PM
Another Twist in the Skydive Myrtle Beach Controversy

Another interesting twist has appeared related to the Skydive Myrtle Beach controversy with Horry County over the county’s closing of the Skydive Myrtle Beach business.

Nearly two years ago, the county used a Director’s Determination by the Federal Aviation Administration to close the landing zone for skydivers at Grand Strand Airport and evict Skydive Myrtle Beach from a hangar at that airport.

The Director’s Determination was based on 112 alleged safety violations committed by Skydive Myrtle Beach, which were documented and reported by Horry County Department of Airports personnel and/or Robinson Aviation personnel who are contracted by the county to staff the control tower at Grand Strand Airport.

In a recent post about the ongoing controversy, we quoted a letter by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti that backed away from calling the documents proof of safety violations by SDMB.

Carotti’s letter, which was included with a response to a FOIA request for documents related to SDMB safety violations, stated, in part, the documents provided “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.”

Several days after the story was posted, the following was contained in an email to at least one county council member:

“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. 

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Horry County Reverses Story on Skydive Myrtle Beach Alleged Violations

August 12, 2017 4:56 AM
Horry County Reverses Story on Skydive Myrtle Beach Alleged Violations

Nearly two years after evicting Skydive Myrtle Beach from Grand Strand Airport for, allegedly, committing numerous safety violations, Horry County now won’t claim the skydiving business committed any violations.

In a cover letter providing 126 documents responding to a Freedom of Information Act request for all public documents associated with Skydive Myrtle Beach safety violations, Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti 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.” (See full letter below)

What is astounding about that statement is that two years ago the exact same documents were provided to both the Federal Aviation Administration and S.C. Fifteenth Circuit Court as proof of safety violations by Skydive Myrtle Beach.

In 2014, Skydive Myrtle Beach lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration against Horry County Department of Airports alleging discriminatory actions against Skydive Myrtle Beach by HCDA.

In response, Horry County Department of Airports reported to the Federal Aviation Administration that Skydive Myrtle Beach was the subject of 112 alleged safety violations (contained in the 126 pages of documents) while conducting business at Grand Strand Airport.

On October 7, 2015, the FAA issued a Director’s Determination Report, authored by Randall Fiertz, the FAA Director of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis, in response to Holly’s original complaint, supposedly basing the report on those safety violations.

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U.S. Attorney Enters Skydive Myrtle Beach Lawsuit

July 31, 2017 2:14 PM
U.S. Attorney Enters Skydive Myrtle Beach Lawsuit

The U.S. Attorney for the South Carolina District has notified the Florence Federal District Court that she will be representing the individual federal defendants in a federal tort claims lawsuit brought by Skydive Myrtle Beach Inc.

The notification is included in a motion, signed by Interim U.S. Attorney for S.C. Beth Drake, to the court requesting an extension in filing a response just as time for a response was running out.

Skydive Myrtle Beach named Horry County, Horry County Council, the Federal Aviation Administration and a number of officials with all agencies individually as defendants.

The lawsuit claims Skydive Myrtle Beach was illegally closed when Horry County Council and its Department of Airports worked with the FAA to deprive Skydive Myrtle Beach of its constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In 2014, Skydive Myrtle Beach lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration against Horry County Department of Airports alleging discriminatory actions against Skydive Myrtle Beach by HCDA.

In response, Horry County Department of Airports reported to the Federal Aviation Administration that Skydive Myrtle Beach was the subject of 112 alleged safety violations while conducting business at Grand Strand Airport.

In October 2015, the FAA issued a 73 page Director’s Determination Report supposedly basing the report on those safety violations. Horry County subsequently used this report as an excuse to shut down Skydive Myrtle Beach operations at Grand Strand Airport.

Skydiving is an approved aviation activity at all airports receiving FAA grants, according to FAA guidelines. Grand Strand Airport and the Horry County Department of Airports receive FAA grants on a routine basis.

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Proper Expenditure of Hospitality Tax Revenue

July 12, 2017 10:22 AM
Proper Expenditure of Hospitality Tax Revenue

A suggestion for the use of hospitality tax revenue was made at Tuesday night’s Horry County Council meeting that makes too much sense to ignore.

In a discussion of New Business, council member Paul Prince spoke about the poor conditions of many roads in the county as well as some need for advance planning in adding additional lanes to Hwy 90, Hwy 905 and roads extending off of those two.

Prince suggested meeting with the Horry County legislative delegation and governor Henry McMaster to find some funds to help with these roads.

Council member Harold Worley suggested spending the “two and one-half percent” on the roads. Worley’s reference was to the county’s hospitality tax.

Governments supposedly collect taxes in order to provide public goods and services. Think here roads, bridges, police, fire and mass education.

Hospitality tax is a little different in that state law requires hospitality tax revenue to be spent on tourism related expenses.

When hospitality tax was first approved by county voters in a county wide referendum, one percent of the total was designated to the government jurisdiction in which it is collected while one and one-half percent was designated to pay off bonds for Ride I projects.

The Ride I bonds are expected to be paid off on or before 2019. The one and one-half percent designated to those bonds brings in revenue of approximately $38 million per year to Horry County.

While it may take a little tweaking of state law to spend all of that revenue on the county road system, it is hard to argue that tourists do not use virtually all of the roads in that system. In addition the tax revenue could be spent on necessities such as public safety.

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