Post Tagged with: "Johnny Gardner"

SLED Report in Review by Solicitor

February 22, 2019 5:00 PM
SLED Report in Review by Solicitor

The SLED investigation report into allegations of wrongdoing by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner was delivered to the solicitor’s office late Thursday afternoon, Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson confirmed to Grand Strand Daily today.

Richardson will receive a full briefing from SLED agents before releasing a statement about his conclusions, probably Monday.

The report included videotapes of all interviews conducted by SLED in the investigation, a complete copy of the recording of a November 30, 2018 meeting between Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation and Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot and other items related to the investigation.

According to Richardson, the report was subjected to peer review before its release, which means an agent not involved in the initial investigation checked the report for accuracy in its findings.

The attempt to smear Gardner was initiated by Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti with a memo sent by Carotti, with the full concurrence of Eldridge, to council members after 6 p.m. December 19, 2018.

Before 6 a.m. December 20, 2018, the memo and a story connecting the words “Gardner” and “extortion” appeared on the website of a Columbia media outlet. The media outlet is the same one that attempted to smear Nikki Haley with allegations of illicit affairs when she was running for governor in 2010.

The less than 12 hours, evening and night hours, is much too tight for anything other than a pre-planned leak of the Carotti memo, labeled “Attorney Client Privileged”, and the accompanying sensationalized story.

Access to the memo was initially limited to the 12 members of council in December 2018 plus Eldridge and Carotti. Who leaked the memo? I can think of only three of the original 14 who could possibly think they would benefit from such a leak.

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A New Emphasis on Public Safety in Horry County?

February 7, 2019 4:43 AM
A New Emphasis on Public Safety in Horry County?

Throughout his campaign for election last year, Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner pledged “Public Safety Priority One, Day One.”

By the time Gardner decided to run for chairman last March, county employees in general and public safety personnel in particular were suffering under low pay and demanding working conditions due to understaffing.

These conditions had been allowed to go on under the administration of former chairman Mark Lazarus and county administrator Chris Eldridge. The cry was always that there wasn’t enough money to hire more people or give current employees much in the way of raises.

Recognizing the particular frustrations of public safety employees, the first responders that are most needed when problems arise, Gardner coined his campaign phrase, not as something to say to get elected, but rather as something to do after he was elected.

Now, less than two months into his term of office, it appears that a majority of council members have bought into that philosophy.

Council members Harold Worley and Al Allen,  two of the more senior members of council, have long advocated for better pay and increased staffing for public safety, but they operated as voices in the wilderness as Lazarus, Eldridge and other senior county staff consistently cried ‘no money, no money.’

Current Public Safety Committee Chairman Danny Hardee joined the ‘wilderness chorus’ when he was elected to council two years ago, but it was still only three council members with the remaining nine basically buying into staff propaganda.

However, the situation appeared to change at the regular meeting of council earlier this week when council members Cam Crawford, Dennis DiSabato, Tyler Servant and newly elected Orton Bellamy voiced support for a new study on pay and staffing for public safety personnel.

These are heartening additions as there now is a possibility of at least eight votes supporting proper pay and staffing for public safety.

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The Dirty Tricks Campaign Against Johnny Gardner

February 4, 2019 4:52 AM
The Dirty Tricks Campaign Against Johnny Gardner

We live in a political climate where dirty tricks are used to create rumors to smear those seen as enemies by the rumormongers.

These rumors, lies are what they really are, come in all shapes and sizes, but they have the same thing in common – to discredit the person they are aimed against.

How well they work depends on the gullibility of the audience they are targeted to influence.

Some of the more ridiculous rumors about public figures we have heard include:

Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a young man attended parties where women were routinely gang raped. That one pushed the envelope too far to be believed.

In late 2015 when Donald Trump had established himself as a serious contender for the Republican nomination, a fake story said he told a magazine in 1998 if he ever ran for president it would be as a Republican because “they’re the dumbest group of voters in the country” and that “he could lie and they’d still eat it up.” Rather than hurt him with Republican voters, Trump went on to win the nomination and election.

In the 2000 primary season, John McCain was accused of fathering an illegitimate black child, which was actually a child from Bangladesh that McCain and his wife adopted. This one stuck a bit with South Carolina voters as George Bush came from behind to win the South Carolina primary and go on to be elected president.

Rumors were circulated about Nikki Haley having multiple affairs during the 2010 primary season, which the voters disregarded. In fact, the rumors were so poorly presented that Haley vaulted from fourth place to win the Republican nomination and go on to twice being elected South Carolina Governor.

More recently, Horry County citizens have been presented with a rumor about county council chairman Johnny Gardner. Interestingly, the Columbia website that played a prominent part in publishing a leaked memo about the fictitious plot from county attorney Arrigo Carotti, written in conjunction with administrator Chris Eldridge, was the same website that played a prominent part in the Haley rumors.

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Eldridge Fiddles While County Administration Fails

January 31, 2019 7:21 AM
Eldridge Fiddles While County Administration Fails

It seems that Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge is taking a page out of the “Nero” playbook as he ignores oversight of county government while being involved in a plot to smear county council chairman Johnny Gardner.

Eldridge was involved in creating a fictitious story about the new chairman and reporting that fiction to SLED while serious issues involving loss of equipment and shorting employee pay were going virtually ignored.

The administrator is charged with carrying out policies approved by county council and creating a smooth running county government organization with good morale.

Several sources within county government say the IT, Procurement and Human Resources departments have been allowed by Eldridge to create virtual fiefdoms outside of the normal organizational chart with little to no oversight.

These same fiefdoms would appear to be at the center of the recent problems.

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Was There Malfeasance in Sending the Carotti Memo to SLED?

January 25, 2019 4:25 AM
Was There Malfeasance in Sending the Carotti Memo to SLED?

Much of the county, especially the citizens who voted for Johnny Gardner, are eagerly awaiting a report from SLED exonerating Gardner from the allegations made against him by Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.

The SLED investigation into the allegations was called for by Eldridge after Carotti authored a five-page email memo outlining these supposed allegations based solely on hearsay and rumor.

If I had written a story about the chairman, the same story related in the Carotti memo, with the same lack of solid documentation and using only the same rumor, hearsay and gossip used in the memo as my sources, I could justifiably be sued for libel, defamation and reckless disregard for the truth.

And with the rapidity that the memo was leaked and appeared in print, I’m not sure that is not exactly what was done with the reporting to SLED as cover to try and build a whistleblower defense.

But allegations based on rumor and hearsay are specifically excluded from the whistleblower defense. Therefore, it looks like Carotti and Eldridge are far out on a limb while sawing it off behind them.

One definition of malfeasance is the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified. I submit making allegations of wrongdoing with nothing more than rumor, hearsay and gossip to back them up, reporting those allegations to SLED and having them leaked to the media are legally unjustified acts. Therefore, it is not a stretch to say that both Eldridge and Carotti may have committed malfeasance by acts so irresponsible they should be fired.

It is a felony in South Carolina to make a false report to law enforcement officials.

I would further submit that any council member who told Eldridge to send the matter to SLED, as Eldridge claimed in a letter to council, and any council member who tries to shield Eldridge and Carotti from discipline by attempting to justify their acts may also be committing malfeasance because there is nothing legally justified about sending a memo to SLED based entirely on rumor, hearsay and gossip.

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Blowing the Wrong Whistle

January 15, 2019 8:34 AM
Blowing the Wrong Whistle

As the county awaits the report of the SLED investigation into alleged wrongdoing by county Chairman Johnny Gardner, initiated by County Administrator Chris Eldridge and County Attorney Arrigo Carotti, it appears those two are attempting to couch a defense for their actions in the pose of whistleblowers.

This has been obvious since the January 4, 2019 special meeting of council when both appeared at the meeting with personal attorneys.

The Eldridge letter presented to council members after the special meeting specifically speaks of him being a “target of retaliation” if he is either fired or suspended by council – a classic whistleblower defense.

There is one major fault with this defense. Whistleblowing protections are not extended to those who report potential wrongdoing based on unsubstantiated hearsay and rumors.

According to documents written by Carotti and Eldridge, unsubstantiated hearsay and rumors are all they had to justify the imaginary plot they had developed in their minds.

In its simplest form, that plot goes this way – Gardner campaign manager Luke Barefoot and Gardner, by extension because he accompanied Barefoot to one meeting held on November 30, 2018, with two Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) officials, attempted to have the EDC pay Gardner campaign consultant Donald Smith so that a rumored negative story about the EDC would not appear in Grand Strand Daily. (Total Rumor)

On or about December 5, 2018, Carotti and Eldridge learned that a tape recording of that meeting existed and, apparently, believed it contained a “smoking gun.”

On December 12, 2018, Eldridge wrote an email to Neyle Wilson, Chairman of the Board of the EDC, sharing “conversation points” (hearsay) EDC CEO Sandy Davis allegedly told to Carotti about that meeting. In the email, Eldridge complained that the EDC had “an unwillingness to share the taped recording” even though the email is part of an email string in which Wilson twice (December 7 and December 12) offered to allow Eldridge to listen to the recording.

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Insurrection Fizzles, Council Meeting Quiet

January 11, 2019 4:39 PM
Insurrection Fizzles, Council Meeting Quiet

The threatened insurrection over county council seating, assigned by Chairman Johnny Gardner, fizzled out yesterday when the Gang of Five began falling apart.

According to council sources, one of the first to fall was council member Tyler Servant. Those sources said it was his opposition to a change in dais seating that spurred council member Harold Worley to take up the cause. It seems Servant liked his former seat which put his face on television more than just when he was speaking.

However, by last night Servant was saying in social media he would sit on the floor if asked. More savvy than most of his colleagues about social media, it didn’t take Servant long to discover how childish the public was interpreting complaining about where you sat during meetings.

Worley also backpedaled in traditional media saying he would sit wherever the chairman told him to. That was not the case the day before when Worley was emailing the council clerk and county attorney about having a motion to try and stop the seating change.

One other small bit of friction was the statement by Dennis DiSabato complaining about the chairman’s committee assignments when he didn’t get chairmanship of a committee that he expected. But, council rules place the responsibility of making committee assignments solely to the chairman and any previous discussions are just that, discussions. The chairman has the absolute right to finalize committee and chairmanship assignments as he sees fit for what he determines best suits the county.

A hats off to Gardner for handling both controversies with calm and dignity, not feeling the need to respond publicly to these challenges to his authority. One must remember, he sits on a dais with 10 members of council who supported his opponent and some, obviously, still have to get over the fact that Gardner won.

Public input on several second readings of ordinances demonstrated the public’s view of council responsibilities.

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Worley Attempting to Lead Insurrection Against Chairman Gardner -UPDATED

January 9, 2019 8:16 PM
Worley Attempting to Lead Insurrection Against Chairman Gardner -UPDATED

Based on his actions over the past six days, it appears Horry County Council member Harold Worley is attempting to lead an insurrection against new council chairman Johnny Gardner.

It began last Friday when Worley appeared determined to avoid having council discuss recent actions by County Administrator Chris Eldridge designed to smear Gardner before he had even assumed office.

This included an interpretation by County Attorney Arrigo Carotti of state law regarding requirements for removing the administrator that three attorneys I have consulted say was a complete misinterpretation of the law.

According to an email chain provided to GSD, Worley has succeeded in enlisting four additional council members, Tyler Servant, Cam Crawford, Bill Howard and Gary Loftus into what I will call the Gang of Five in a new attempt aimed at embarrassing and marginalizing the new chairman.

Those same four supported Worley’s antics last Friday to suppress discussion of the administrator’s actions in embarrassing the county.

This new attempt regards a change in seating arrangement on the council dais that Gardner has called for. The arrangement is numerical which Gardner believes will make it easier for meeting attendees and home viewers to identify their particular district member.

On the surface, this looks like a completely ridiculous division to have.

With the real problems in the county, public safety shortages, infrastructure, storm water and so on, the most pressing issue to five council members is where they sit on the dais?

But is it really about where members sit?

I have been told by business people in the county since last Friday that the Dunes Club Crowd is not happy with Gardner in the chairman’s seat. Worley has long positioned himself as a champion of the people against that crowd, but I wonder.

What is most interesting here is the Gang of Five all represent council districts totally or substantially east of the waterway and all five live east of the waterway.

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The Eldridge and Carotti Version of Extortion – ‘He Said, He Said, She Said, He Said’

January 7, 2019 3:53 AM
The Eldridge and Carotti Version of Extortion – ‘He Said, He Said, She Said, He Said’

Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti were left off the hook last Friday when Horry County Council quickly voted to adjourn a meeting rather than drill down on why the two embarrassed the county by calling for a SLED investigation of a rather ridiculous version of events allegedly involving council Chairman Johnny Gardner.

Using alleged here is really a stretch as fantasy much closer describes a five-page email Carotti authored and Eldridge said, in a letter delivered to council members after the meeting, “accurately summarized” what transpired.

If Eldridge and Carotti are to be believed, we have to accept that Gardner attempted to have the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) funnel “thousands of dollars” (Eldridge words) to Donald Smith (Gardner’s campaign consultant), somehow using the Beach Ball Classic “for political cover” (Carotti words). The EDC board is filled with many of the most prominent and politically connected business people, educators and government officials in the county.

By Carotti’s admission in his email, he began writing the email on the 14th relating events that began on (or before) December 5th. Carotti completed his email on December 19th sending it to Eldridge and the 12 members of county council at that time. The entire email was leaked and published in a Columbia media outlet within 12 hours of its completion.

There are supposedly only 14 people who had initial access to this email. At least one of those was the source of its initial leak. Find the leaker among Eldridge, Carotti and the 12 members of council in December and you will discover not only the reason for the leak, but also the reason the email was written in the first place. The motivation will be political not legal, moral or ethical.

The email contains information Carotti allegedly heard from Davis about conversations she allegedly had with Barefoot. In other words, ‘he said, she said, he said.’ In Eldridge’s case, most of his knowledge was gained from Carotti’s retelling of those conversations, or another way, ’he said, he said, she said, he said.’

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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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