Post Tagged with: "Horry County"

Public Corruption and Southern Holdings

May 11, 2018 8:00 AM
Public Corruption and Southern Holdings

Public corruption is a hot topic today with politicians making illegal deals and other powerful interests using their influence to evade the law.

Too often the courts are also included in the process providing the final piece to the public corruption puzzle.

When this happens, the entire fabric of American society is torn and it’s difficult to see how it can be fixed.

Such is the story of the case of Southern Holdings et al v. Horry County et al.

In the Spring of the year 2000, Southern Holdings was a nice little corporation valued at $20 million, by independent analysts, doing business in South Carolina, North Carolina and Las Vegas, Nevada. It was owned by 75 shareholders, some of whom were residents of Horry County, with varying stock positions.

The corporation had recently gained the rights to contracts to be the exclusive marketer of cigarettes in areas of South America along with the rights to an offshore bank license and other contracts. The total value of these contracts and rights was $12-$15 million, according to corporate records.

After Southern Holdings gained the rights to these contracts, former Southern Holdings shareholder Ancil B. Garvin, III, a resident of Horry County at the time, attempted to get Southern Holdings President James Spencer to cut the remaining shareholders out of the profits.

What Spencer didn’t know then was that Garvin was selling cigarettes in the black market as well as with legitimate outlets.

In an e-mail from Garvin to Spencer in early May 2000, Garvin urged Spencer to agree to buy out the other stockholders. Garvin suggested he and Spencer could then “take the remaining $10 million of assets and retire.” Spencer refused.

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Is $12 Million For Swamp Land Wasteful Spending?

May 7, 2018 3:21 AM
Is $12 Million For Swamp Land Wasteful Spending?

(Above photo from Lazarus for Chairman 2014 website)

Four years ago, Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus made seven commitments to voters when seeking reelection in 2014. One of those commitments was to “eliminate wasteful spending” (in county government.)

Three years later, Lazarus was leading the charge to purchase 3,729 acres of swamp land off of International Drive for $3,000 per acre, a total expenditure of nearly $12 million.

County citizens were told the land was to be used for mitigation credits for Ride III and other road projects and that excess mitigation credits from the land could be sold to other counties.

According to one council member I spoke with recently, slightly less than 1,000 acres of wetlands will be needed to mitigate wetland disturbances associated with Ride III projects.

Another council member I spoke with said he didn’t know how much of the parcel off International Drive would be needed for Ride III mitigation, but the deal was a great one because the county could sell excess credits to other counties.

I have seen offers on wetlands in the more rural, western areas of the county ranging from $1,000 per acre to $1,500 per acre.

I questioned the second council member why the county purchased the parcel off of International Drive for $3,000 per acre when wetlands further west in the county sell between 50%-67% cheaper.

After calling county staff, he told me the purchase off of International Drive was necessary so that the mitigation wetlands would be near the wetlands disturbed by Ride III projects.

I questioned how that explanation made any sense when the claim was made the county could sell excess mitigation credits to other counties where the International Drive land wouldn’t be close to the land being disturbed. Obviously, I received no answer.

Considering the contradictions in the above statements and that cheaper wetlands in the western areas of the county were ignored, one can only conclude there was some hidden agenda behind the purchase of the International Drive parcel for nearly $12 million.

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Budgets, Elections and Micromanagement in Horry County

April 30, 2018 7:30 AM
Budgets, Elections and Micromanagement in Horry County

There are six weeks to go before county voters will go to the polls to vote in local, state and federal primary elections.

The race which seems to be drawing the largest amount of attention throughout Horry County at this time is the Republican Primary contest for Horry County Council Chairman between challenger Johnny Gardner and incumbent Mark Lazarus.

At the same time, Horry County Council is considering its budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins July 1, 2018. Four weeks ago, Grand Strand Daily ran a story about the proposed FY 2019 budget calling it an election year budget because of provisions in the proposed budget that appear to be included just to attract voters to incumbents.

Unfortunately, this type of focus on the budget at election time does not serve the best interests of council or the citizens.

According to multiple sources within county government, decisions for Horry County are being micromanaged by a partnership between Lazarus and County Administrator Chris Eldridge.

This partnership proposed an average three percent merit raise for all county employees with somewhat larger raises targeted to public safety personnel (police, fire and EMS) in the FY2019 budget.

This is not to say the proposed raises are unjustified. However, this type of targeting and its associated hype during council’s Spring Budget Retreat appear to be more about the votes of county employees than the needs of the county. County employees along with their families, neighbors and friends comprise a large voting block.

The micromanagement partnership focus appears to be on the wrong issues, however.

Despite the proposed raises, Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 of the International Association of Firefighters and Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 endorsed the candidacy of Gardner in the upcoming June 12, 2018 primary.

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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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