Post Tagged with: "Johnny Gardner"

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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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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Change Threatens as Administrator Interviews Near

June 24, 2019 3:48 AM
Change Threatens as Administrator Interviews Near

As public interviews loom for candidates for the permanent administrator position for Horry County, I sense a hint of panic in those council members who are pushing Steve Gosnell for administrator because they want to maintain the status quo.

They are the same council members who attempted to circumvent the administrator selection process before it began.

They are the same council members who stumped unsuccessfully to keep former council chairman Mark Lazarus in office.

They are many of the same council members who tried to excuse away the actions of former administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti when that pair concocted their fictitious story alleging wrongdoing on the part of new chairman Johnny Gardner.

These are members who try to get you to believe that ‘up’ is actually ‘down’, ‘stop’ is actually ‘go’ and ‘orange’ is actually ‘purple’.

Or, put another way, insist building I-73 is necessary while roads that have flooded in three of the last four years are ignored; new developments are okay even though infrastructure and public safety needs are lacking for development the county already has in place and planning future spending of tens of millions of dollars to continue to bury trash in the county is better than looking for reasonable alternatives.

These are the same council members who are afraid of change because it may upset their own personal, selfish agendas.

In the last few days they have found several shills to do their bidding on social media with one media outlet publishing an article claiming transparency in the selection process is a bad thing and a person in love with social media videos flip flopping positions on Gosnell based on false information.

All of the above is to be expected. Politics in Horry County is generally a full contact sport. If you’re not willing to figuratively shed a little blood, don’t get in the arena.

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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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How Far Will the Deep Six Go to Block Change With a New Administrator?

May 31, 2019 8:37 AM
How Far Will the Deep Six Go to Block Change With a New Administrator?

The first phase in finding a replacement for former county administrator Chris Eldridge will be completed next week as applications from candidates must be in by June 5, 2019.

The Deep Six, council members Harold Worley, Tyler Servant, Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus, Cam Crawford and Bill Howard, assisted by council member Johnny Vaught, already tried to hijack this process once.

In behind the scenes maneuvering, this group attempted to promote the hiring of interim administrator Steve Gosnell to the administrator job without consideration of any other candidates. When the plot was exposed, several of the plotters backed away quickly.

Voters in the county opted for change in the way the county does business when they elected council chairman Johnny Gardner to replace Mark Lazarus last year.

Since Gardner took office, the Deep Six have attempted to obstruct change to the point of initially blocking the firing of Eldridge after he and county attorney Arrigo Carotti were discredited in their attempt to smear Gardner. That little episode cost county taxpayers approximately $300,000, the cost of paying off Eldridge to get rid of him.

But, that cost will be minimal compared to the cost to taxpayers of blocking a new vision to county administration.

Steve Gosnell has been a good engineer for the county. He has approximately two years to go before hitting the 28 year mark for full retirement. He is not the person to look to for changes in the way county government is run.

Gosnell has been head of the county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Division and an assistant administrator for a number of years, once before serving as interim administrator. He has built a working relationship with other members of senior staff and, as such, is not expected to look at what changes are necessary to make county government more effective, more responsive to the needs of citizens and more transparent.

County government does not need, in the administrator position, a two year placeholder looking forward to retirement while keeping many of the failed Eldridge policies and senior staff in place.

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Deep Six Secret Attempt to Hijack Administrator Search

May 15, 2019 3:22 AM
Deep Six Secret Attempt to Hijack Administrator Search

Only minutes after the end of the last regular meeting of county council during which plans for a search for a new county administrator were discussed, several council members moved to hijack the search.

According to information received from various council members:

Immediately after the close of the regular meeting: council member Harold Worley approached interim administrator Steve Gosnell about taking the permanent administrator job without going through the search process.

Being a single member of council, Worley had no right to circumvent the search process in this manner, but he did it anyway.

Worley contacted council member Johnny Vaught the following day, explained he had talked to Gosnell, brought Vaught on board with the plot and tasked Vaught to secure sufficient votes from other council members over the next few days.

While Vaught was contacting other council members, council member Gary Loftus contacted the county’s Human Resources Department telling them not to post the job opening for administrator as had been discussed before full council at the meeting. As a single council member, Loftus had no authority to issue such an instruction.

At the regular council meeting, Loftus made a motion to reconsider the vote to accept the separation of former administrator Chris Eldridge to add to it acceptance of Gosnell as interim county administrator. Loftus said this motion was made, “So we make sure that we follow proper legal procedure.”

After the motion to reconsider was approved, Loftus offered an amendment to appoint Gosnell as interim administrator “under short term contract to be entered into by the chairman on behalf of county council,” The amendment passed and the main motion accepting Eldridge’s separation and appointing Gosnell to interim administrator under short term contract passed.

On the dais in front of the public, proper procedure was the rule of the hour. However, proper procedure was ignored immediately after the meeting and in the next several days as this behind the scenes plot unfolded. And nobody bothered to contact the chairman until the plot was in motion and Vaught called Gardner to ask for his support.

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County Attorney Reverses Stance on Eldridge Agreement Release

April 19, 2019 9:20 AM
County Attorney Reverses Stance on Eldridge Agreement Release

One day after denying Freedom of Information requests for the release of the termination agreement with former county administrator Chris Eldridge, Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti honored those requests.

What changed in 24 hours? Absolutely nothing!

Carotti tried to lay blame for the initial denial of release of the agreement on a claim that is was “confidential.”

This claim apparently rose from a “non-disclosure” clause that was included in the document.

The non-disclosure clause was never discussed in negotiations with the attorney representing Eldridge in the matter, according to council Chairman Johnny Gardner. Gardner said council was told it was a standard clause the county’s Human Resources department adds to this type of agreement.

But, the clause is illegal under state law. It not only violates the state Freedom of Information Act, but also violates state statutes with respect to public contracts and the expenditure of public funds. The clause also attempted to infringe on the First Amendment protections of free speech by limiting what council members could say about the agreement.

The termination agreement with Eldridge is a public contract. The severance package for Eldridge, agreed to by council, will be paid from public funds. State statutes specifically require public disclosure of such contracts and payments.

Carotti also claimed in an email to council members that he reached out to Eldridge’s attorney to see if Eldridge would agree to public disclosure of the document. Carotti claimed he received written permission from Eldridge’s attorney and released the document at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Let’s explore those statements.

Carotti claims to need approval from Eldridge’s attorney to disclose the agreement due to a ‘boilerplate’ clause in the contract that was never part of the negotiations. Rather, the clause was put into the contract illegally by the county’s HR department and then used to initially deny public access to the agreement.

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County Council Ends Eldridge Nightmare

April 17, 2019 6:34 AM
County Council Ends Eldridge Nightmare

The nightmare that has been the reign of county administrator Chris Eldridge ended Tuesday night when county council approved a termination package to end Eldridge’s employment.

The specific details of Eldridge’s package were not announced. However, it is believed to be in the neighborhood of one year salary, benefits and allowances or approximately $300,000 cost to the county.

And it is worth every penny to get rid of a poisonous influence at the top of county government who was unilaterally despised by county employees; who often confused his role as one of being in the middle of making policy rather than carrying out the decisions of others and who quite unsuccessfully attempted to disgrace current council chairman Johnny Gardner even before Gardner took office.

The vote was 9-2 to end Eldridge’s tenure, with council members Bill Howard and Tyler Servant the odd men out. Gardner did not vote as he participated in the negotiations of the package with Eldridge’s attorney.

Howard’s no vote was for reasons apparently only he can understand. Servant tried to play his ‘guardian of the people’s money’ schtick because of the size of the settlement, never considering how much more it would have cost the county in poor management and personnel decisions to keep Eldridge in place.

Immediately prior to the vote on Eldridge, council voted to defer cancellation of a Financial Participation Agreement with SCDOT for funding of I-73 while “aggressively pursuing” defense of the lawsuit recently brought against the county by Myrtle Beach over hospitality fee collections.

Among other pleadings in the lawsuit, the city requested a permanent injunctions against the county’s ability to collect a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee for its special road fund. A portion of that fund was to be used to fund the agreement with SCDOT.

In addition to the lawsuit, three cities, Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach have moved on to pass ordinances capturing all hospitality and accommodations fees collected within their corporate limits.

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Horry County Council Embarrassment Continues

April 8, 2019 9:12 AM
Horry County Council Embarrassment Continues

A discussion during last week’s Horry County Council Budget Retreat, about county council hiring its own attorney to represent council only, highlighted the deep rift that continues to plague and embarrass council as long as administrator Chris Eldridge is allowed to remain in his county position.

Council member Al Allen introduced the idea of council hiring an attorney to represent council as a body after referring to actions by county attorney Arrigo Carotti in what now appears to have been a civil conspiracy to keep Chairman Johnny Gardner from taking office.

Carotti authored a five-page memo based entirely on his recollection and interpretation of one or more conversations he had with economic development officials weeks before. The memo described actions and statements that never occurred in attempting to weave a narrative implicating Gardner in possibly illegal actions. In his narrative, Carotti made false statements about other persons in the community, supposedly in connection with Gardner and Barefoot, including yours truly.

The memo was used by Eldridge to request a SLED investigation into Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot. Eldridge’s request to SLED was made on the morning of December 20, 2019 after the Carotti memo had been leaked and published by a Columbia media outlet.

After the memo was leaked and published, Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Davis, the primary source for the Carotti memo according to Carotti, was quoted in several media stories as calling most of the memo “fabricated.”

Carotti and Eldridge were interviewed by SLED investigators on January 7, 2019. The next day, Carotti sent an email to SLED attempting to influence the direction of the investigation and dictating what conclusions should and should not be drawn from it.

SLED found no evidence of impropriety on the part of Gardner and Barefoot during its investigation and Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson announced there was no evidence of criminal activity.

There was nothing documenting or confirming the allegations made in the Carotti memo. It was nothing but recollections about third party conversations he and/or Eldridge had with Davis and the memo was quickly discredited by Davis to both media and SLED investigators

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Negotiations on Eldridge Departure Ongoing, Lawsuits Considered

April 4, 2019 5:00 PM
Negotiations on Eldridge Departure Ongoing, Lawsuits Considered

During the regular meeting of Horry County Council April 2, 2019, Chairman Johnny Gardner informed council members that negotiations regarding the exit of administrator Chris Eldridge are ongoing.

There have been some indications that Eldridge believes he has claims against the county that could result in an exit package of significant dollars.

What Eldridge apparently fails to understand is there are others who have potential claims against him and the apparent conspiracy to defame Gardner and others that began with emails as early as December 12, 2018.

There is no question it is past time for Eldridge to go. Four months have passed since he and attorney Arrigo Carotti began developing a narrative to defame the character and reputation of Gardner.

It has been a month since council deadlocked in a 6-6 vote on a motion to fire Eldridge, allowing him to remain in his position as administrator.

Since that vote, new information has been uncovered through Freedom of Information Act requests that point to a joint effort by Eldridge, Carotti and former chairman Mark Lazarus to develop a narrative that could be brought to SLED for an investigation of Gardner.

Eldridge requested the SLED investigation on December 20, 2018 after Carotti completed a five-page memo containing a narrative for which there were no facts to substantiate the authenticity of the memo’s narrative.

The memo was completed after Lazarus, Eldridge, Carotti and council member Gary Loftus listened on December 19, 2018 to a portion of a recording of a November 30, 2018 lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development (EDC) officials Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele.

On that recording, Carotti and Eldridge alleged there was evidence of attempted extortion of EDC by Gardner and/or Barefoot.

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