Post Tagged with: "Lawsuit"

County Says No to Secret Negotiations on Hospitality Fees

March 29, 2019 8:30 AM
County Says No to Secret Negotiations on Hospitality Fees

Horry County Council members have given a resounding NO to holding secret negotiations with representatives from the municipalities about hospitality fees and possible funding for I-73.

The City of Myrtle Beach proposed discussions behind closed doors by sending a confidentiality agreement to the county and the other seven municipalities in Horry County. The city is trying to couch any discussions on hospitality fees as a resolution conference with regard to the lawsuit it recently filed against Horry County over the subject. The city said S.C. Rules of Procedure Section 408 applies to the discussions.

In the very best interpretation of the city’s position, this is a stretch.

The city filed its lawsuit against the county claiming the county’s continued collection of the 1.5% portion of the hospitality fee beyond January 1, 2017 is illegal. The complaint was structured in a way that a class action lawsuit (municipalities v the county) could be requested.

However, to date no other municipality has joined the lawsuit and no judge has certified a class action.

Therefore, any negotiations that includes representatives from other than Myrtle Beach and Horry County couldn’t truly be considered a dispute resolution conference as it would include third parties not currently included in the lawsuit.

More importantly, any discussions about dividing public tax revenues or spending public tax dollars for public projects by public agencies should be held in the open.

What appears to have happened is Myrtle Beach jumped the gun on the hospitality fee issue. It hurried a city ordinance through two readings in order to capture all hospitality tax, 2% on just prepared food and beverages, allowed under current state law, collected by the city to remain in Myrtle Beach tax coffers.

Myrtle Beach next filed its lawsuit against Horry County claiming the original hospitality tax ordinance passed by Horry County with consent of the cities in late 1996 expired on January 1, 2017. The original ordinance placed a 2.5% tax on all accommodations, prepared food and beverages and tickets sold within the county. Of that, 1.5% collected countywide was specifically designated to pay off the bonds for the Ride I projects.

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Horry County’s Embarrassing Special Meeting

March 26, 2019 10:12 AM
Horry County’s Embarrassing Special Meeting

Horry County Council proved during its special meeting last night it doesn’t need the county administrator or attorney to embarrass the county. Council did a fine job embarrassing itself on its own.

Two key items were up for a vote last night – not to renew the administrator’s contract upon its April 21, 2019 termination and termination of the financial participation agreement between the county and SCDOT for the I-73 project.

Council kicked both votes down the road.

There may have been some justification for not voting on the administrator’s contract because council chairman Johnny Gardner was contacted by an attorney representing administrator Chris Eldridge yesterday morning requesting negotiation of an exit package for Eldridge.

Gardner said he believes agreement can be reached on a termination package so Eldridge will depart county employment within two weeks.

Delaying cancellation of the I-73 agreement, however, is an entirely different story.

There is no benefit to the county and its citizens of keeping an agreement in place, the funding for which is a great mystery at this point.

However, the Myrtle Beach Chamber and its cronies were in full lobbying mode yesterday to keep the financial participation agreement in place.

Those council members, I’m thinking here of council’s Deep Six in particular, who are much more inclined to listen to the special interest lobbyists at the expense of the citizens of the county fell right in line.

Council member Harold Worley, the apparent leader of the Deep Six, was reportedly in favor of cancelling the financial participation agreement at the end of last week. Monday night, Worley was the foremost proponent from the council dais in maintaining the agreement and negotiation with the county’s municipalities on a new split of hospitality tax revenues.

In the past few weeks, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach have all passed ordinances whose sole purpose is to capture all hospitality tax revenues collected within their respective corporate limits.

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The Demise of I-73

March 22, 2019 8:13 AM
The Demise of I-73

The City of Myrtle Beach effectively ended the possibility of any significant local funding for I-73 when it sued Horry County over Hospitality Fee collections earlier this week.

The filing of the lawsuit followed weeks in which city council passed an ordinance to capture all the hospitality fee revenue collected within Myrtle Beach corporate limits, said it may be willing to fund up to $7.5 million annually for I-73, then, completed this chain of events with the lawsuit.

One must possess a strong appreciation for the absurd to watch the Myrtle Beach council in action.

However, Myrtle Beach only provided the endgame for what has been a bungled process from the beginning with first Horry County and later Myrtle Beach attempting to save local funding for I-73.

It began in April 2017 when former chairman Mark Lazarus strong-armed Horry County Council to remove the sunset provision from the 1.5% countywide hospitality tax that was funding the Ride I bonds. Each of the municipalities in the county had formally agreed to collection of this tax within their corporate boundaries until the Ride I bonds were paid off.

Lazarus, assisted by county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti, formulated a plan to move this funding source to I-73 when the Ride I bonds were paid off, an event that occurred in January 2019. However, none of the county trio thought to obtain formal agreement from the municipalities to support this plan.

After Lazarus lost the June 2018 primary for council chairman, his days to secure the deal became numbered.

In July 2018, Lazarus and his two staff cohorts worked county council to formally adopt a resolution dedicating all of the $41 million revenue from the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee collections to a special fund for I-73. Again, none of the triplets approached the municipalities for formal agreement to this plan.

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Our Council Members as Sheep

January 22, 2019 4:56 AM
Our Council Members as Sheep

Year in and year out voters go to the polling booths in June for primary elections and November for general elections to vote for the candidates they want to lead their respective governments.

Unfortunately, local voters, especially those voting in Myrtle Beach City Council and Horry County Council elections, appear to be getting short changed in the leadership department because far too many of these elected officials defer to staff to determine policy.

And these policies leave a lot to be desired as council members act like sheep being led by senior staff members.

In Myrtle Beach, the city has decided to wage war on certain Ocean Boulevard business owners with a zoning overlay district that makes selling items such as CBD oil illegal in the district while allowing it to be sold everywhere else in the city.

It was announced recently that CBD coffee ads will air during the upcoming Super Bowl. CBD products are good enough to be advertised during the number one television event of the year, but can’t be sold in a certain area of Ocean Boulevard because the city doesn’t want the store owners to get business.

There is something very wrong with that calculus but city council doesn’t question what.

The targeted Ocean Boulevard stretch appears to be coveted because of its location and proximity to other city owned properties in and around the super block, a nice area that could be resold to a developer looking to locate, say, a casino complex.

But first the businesses in that location must be driven out and the buildings become available at the right price.

With three new members of city council and a completely redrafted ordinance presented for second reading last summer, this can’t be a council driven decision for members looking to get reelected. The only logical conclusion is that council members went along like sheep following the lead of the city administrator and his staff in passing this ordinance.

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Myrtle Beach City Council Approves Product Ban

August 17, 2018 3:34 AM
Myrtle Beach City Council Approves Product Ban

Myrtle Beach City Council Tuesday approved an overlay district on a portion of Ocean Boulevard that will ban legal products from being sold on the basis they are not “family friendly.”

Family friendly is an excuse the city administrator and city council roll out when they have no solid reason for doing something.

In my opinion, the majority five council members who voted for the ban, Brenda Bethune, Phil Render, Mike Chestnut, Jackie Vereen and Mary Jeffcoat took a position on the issue that is arrogant, ill-considered and downright embarrassing.

If the five believe the issue is settled, I doubt it is.

To quote Winston Churchill after the Battle of Britain, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Churchill was correct, five long years of war remained.

I fully expect the legality of the ordinance to be challenged in court. But city council doesn’t care because they will not be paying from their pockets to defend a lawsuit if one is forthcoming. It will be your taxpayer dollars that are wasted just as they were with the ill-fated helmet law council passed some years ago.

Local attorney Reese Boyd pointed out during the meeting that the ordinance has changed by 70 percent or more since it passed first reading in May 2017. This draws into question whether the ordinance received a true second and final reading Tuesday.

The ordinance targets businesses that are Jewish owned bringing into question how it stands up to the anti-discrimination precepts contained in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

It is absolutely ridiculous that a targeted product can be sold on one block of Ocean Boulevard but not on the next, as will be the case if the ordinance withstands expected legal challenges. “Family friendly” is evidently determined by geography.

Is it because of who owns the targeted businesses and not about what they sell?

If so, it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility that a case of conspiracy could be alleged.

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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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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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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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Questioning the Arrogant County Response to the Angie Jones Lawsuit

December 18, 2017 11:02 AM
Questioning the Arrogant County Response to the Angie Jones Lawsuit

Horry County’s response to the lawsuit filed by Treasurer Angie Jones raises many questions about what exactly is going on in county government.

Shortly after assuming office on July 1, 2017, Jones requested funding be added to the Treasurer’s Office budget of approximately $30,000 in order to hire one additional clerk to help with service to customers in Conway, Myrtle Beach, Little River and Surfside Beach offices as needed.

This request was rejected by the county council’s Administration Committee.

As a result, Jones filed her lawsuit against the county requesting sufficient funding and staffing to effectively run her office.

In response to the summons and complaint, the county charged, “… such issues are solely as a result of her (Jones) 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.”

In addition, the county alleges Jones has exceeded the budget for the Treasurer’s Office and should be held personally responsible for paying back to the county any budget deficit as well as attorney’s fees for defending the lawsuit.

Speaking of mismanagement and paying back budget deficits by this county government is laughable in light of past and present issues with its initiatives, its budget and its decisions.

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Horry County Response to Treasurer Angie Jones Lawsuit Goes Beyond Legal Issues

December 15, 2017 7:01 AM
Horry County Response to Treasurer Angie Jones Lawsuit Goes Beyond Legal Issues

The response filed by Horry County Government December 14, 2017, to a lawsuit filed by Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones last month, appears to take the issues in the case out of the purely legal realm.

At some level within the government, this case certainly seems to be more personal than merely a disagreement over funding for the Treasurer’s Office.

The following extracts from the county’s response provide some insight:

Para. 5 First Defense – “… legal issues manufactured by Jones are not genuine legal issues, but issues solely caused by Jones’s failure to properly manage the Office of the Treasurer and properly understand South Carolina State law regarding the obligations and responsibilities of county treasurers in South Carolina as well as the functioning of county government.”

Para. 8 First Defense – “… Jones has consistently attempted to manipulate, usurp and contravene the budgeting powers and process of Horry County, to include the bringing of this legal action and casting constant blame on others including the prior Treasurer, for the sole purpose of misleading the public, justifying the employment of friends and political supporters and diverting attention away from her mismanagement of the Treasurer’s Office.”

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