Post Tagged with: "Mark Lazarus"

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.

Read more ›

Mayors Add Confusion to Hospitality Tax/I-73 Funding Debate

May 21, 2019 7:09 AM
Mayors Add Confusion to Hospitality Tax/I-73 Funding Debate

After watching a video last evening of a news conference held in Conway yesterday by the mayors of the various incorporated municipalities in Horry County, under the auspices of the Horry County League of Cities, I was dumbfounded by the misinformation and political spin by those elected leaders to the public.

I do enjoy it when the mayors get together and issue statements under the League of Cities banner. The League of Cities is nothing more than a lunch club of the mayors and the chairman of Horry County Council if that official wishes to attend. It has neither official nor legal basis for doing anything, but it sounds good in the media.

The issue was hospitality tax collections in Horry County and who gets to keep the revenue beginning next fiscal year. The latest catalyst for this public discussion is a proposed bill dropped by the Horry County legislative delegation on the next to last day of this year’s legislative session.

Simply put, the bill, if it eventually passes, extends collections of a 1.5% hospitality tax countywide with the revenue going to Horry County Government. The cities and the county also collect an additional 1% hospitality tax within their respective jurisdictions for a total hospitality tax of 2.5% throughout the county. The tax has been on the books by county ordinance since late December 1996 with the proceeds of the countywide 1.5% portion being used to fund major road projects in the county under the collective banner of Ride I projects (SC 22, SC 31, US 501 improvements for example).

The initial duration of the tax was supposed to be 20 years with several additions through the years which extended payment on Ride I bonds through January 2019. Each of the municipalities in the county passed resolutions supporting the 1996 county ordinance.

In April/May 2017, Horry County Council, under the leadership of then chairman Mark Lazarus and administrator Chris Eldridge, unilaterally acted, with the rest of council going along, to remove the sunset provision of the hospitality tax ordinance that was to end the collection of the countywide 1.5% tax when Ride I bonds were paid off.

The idea of Lazarus and Eldridge was to use the approximately over $40 million annual revenue from the 1.5% portion to fund building of I-73 in Horry County.

Read more ›

Myrtle Beach Rejects Open Talks on Hospitality Fees

April 14, 2019 10:59 AM
Myrtle Beach Rejects Open Talks on Hospitality Fees

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune sent a letter to Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner last week rejecting public negotiations on a county plan for splitting hospitality fees.

Myrtle Beach wanted to hold any negotiations in secret using a lawsuit the city filed against the county last month over hospitality fee collection as the excuse for needing to keep discussions behind closed doors.

However, anyone who has followed local politics for even a short while understands the proclivity of local governments to conduct as much real discussion of issues as possible out of public view.

There is a very good reason for this. Often, the genesis of the issues kept most secret comes not from local elected officials, but rather from the special interests who have the ear of the politicians and who have been very effective through the decades pushing agendas that most benefit those interests.

The current hospitality fee issue dates back at least three years to the beginning of 2016. At that time, the projects funded by the Ride II tax were coming to completion. The hospitality and real estate interests began pushing the need for a Ride III referendum.

Informal talks between special interest leaders and local politicians developed a plan to promote passage of a Ride III referendum as well as continuation of hospitality fee collections countywide to fund I-73 construction within Horry County.

The special one-cent sales tax approved with Ride II and Ride III referendums pay for many projects that improve roads within the county that have become congested with traffic from new developments. These costs should be paid for directly by developers or impact fees rather than all the citizens of the county, but the hospitality and real estate lobbies have been able to avoid this to date.

The Ride III referendum was passed by voters in November 2016. County council removed the sunset provision from hospitality fee ordinance in the spring of 2017 at the behest of Lazarus, county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti.

Read more ›

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.

Read more ›

County Attorney Tried to Directly Influence SLED Investigation

March 23, 2019 11:01 AM
County Attorney Tried to Directly Influence SLED Investigation

New information has surfaced that demonstrates Horry County attorney Arrigo Carotti not only attempted to tell SLED investigators what direction their investigation of Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner should take but also what conclusions they should and should not draw as a result.

Allegations of extortion against Gardner, began with a five-page memo written by Carotti, from December 14–19, 2018, in concert with input from county administrator Chris Eldridge. The memo also attempted to implicate Luke Barefoot, Donald Smith and myself in this fictitious plot.

Eldridge sent the Carotti memo to SLED December 20, 2018 requesting the agency investigate the allegations, but only after the memo was leaked to and published by a Columbia internet media outlet early in the morning of December 20th.

Eldridge told county council members, during a March 5, 2019 special meeting of council, he sent the memo to SLED only after it was leaked in the media because “he didn’t want to be accused of a cover up.”

Before the results of the SLED investigation were made public, an attorney friend of mine told me his theory on the entire affair was that a civil conspiracy plot had taken place among players who were willing to go to any length to keep Gardner from taking office on January 1, 2019. Are we talking “Deep County” here?

With more and more journalists seeking additional information about the allegations against Gardner through Freedom of Information Act requests and questions of the various people included in this saga, new revelations have come to light in recent days that add significant credence to this theory.

Carotti’s original five-page memo is based completely on hearsay about supposed conversations, none of which Carotti nor Eldridge were party to. In his memo, Carotti states he began writing it on December 14th “as a result of events that have taken place since December 5 as memory fades over time and this debacle is broadening.”

Read more ›

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.

Read more ›

County Council Defers I-73 Decision Until Next Meeting – Updated

March 20, 2019 5:26 AM
County Council Defers I-73 Decision Until Next Meeting – Updated

Update—————————-Update

John Bonsignor and I hosted North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley today on our television show Talking Politics. During the discussion with Mayor Hatley, I asked about the new North Myrtle Beach city ordinance keeping all hospitality tax collected in the city. Mayor Hatley said the city expects an additional $7 million annually from the hospitality tax.

I specifically asked Mayor Hatley if anyone had approached the city about dedicating some of the new hospitality tax revenue to the I-73 project. Mayor Hatley responded that she had received a call from Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune on that subject. 

Mayor Hatley said North Myrtle Beach would consider the request but ONLY if EVERYONE has some “skin in the game”. I inquired if “everyone” includes the state and federal governments and she said “yes.”
—————————————————————————–
Horry County Council members deferred taking any action amending the I-73 Financial Participation Agreement with SCDOT until the next regularly scheduled meeting April 2, 2019.

Issues with the agreement first arose when the cities of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach passed ordinances recently reducing hospitality tax revenues to Horry County thereby removing much of the anticipated money needed to fund the I-73 agreement.

Last week, members of the county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Committee tasked county staff with renegotiating two key areas of the financial agreement with SCDOT – delay of the start of any work under the agreement until January 1, 2020 and remove Section III(D) of the agreement which reads in part, “…“The County’s prior approval shall not be required to enter into contract agreements for improvements to SC-22, provided the cost thereof does not exceed the estimates provided in the Annual Work Plan. Nor shall the County’s prior approval be required for any right-of-way acquisition agreement or consultant agreement for work of the Project provided the cost thereof does not exceed the estimates provided in the Annual Work Plan.”

Members of the I&R Committee did not want to allow SCDOT to enter into any type of contract agreements without prior approval of county council.

As the agreement currently reads, county council only has prior approval on construction contracts.

Read more ›

High Drama Surrounds County’s I-73 Agreement with SCDOT

March 14, 2019 2:55 AM
High Drama Surrounds County’s I-73 Agreement with SCDOT

High drama surrounded a recent decision by the Horry County Council Infrastructure and Regulation Committee to consider changes and/or cancellation of the Financial Participation Agreement the county signed with SCDOT last December for the Interstate 73 project.

Like many issues in the political arena these days, this one included its share of drama queens heightening and confusing the discussion while voicing veiled threats about possible state government retaliation should local government officials significantly alter or cancel the agreement.

According to local council members who spoke with Grand Strand Daily, Reps. Russell Fry and Alan Clemmons as well as former representative and current Myrtle Beach Chamber lobbyist Mike Ryhal quickly took to phone calls and texts when they heard of the planned I&R discussion earlier this week.

Their collective message, reportedly, was leave the agreement alone or face the possibility of the General Assembly altering current state law to remove control of hospitality and accommodations tax revenue from local governments in favor of control in Columbia.

Ever since July 2017 when former county council chairman Mark Lazarus and members of county government senior staff led council down the path to partial funding of the I-73 project by removing a sunset provision from the county’s hospitality tax law, this controversy has been inevitable.

Despite massive propaganda efforts through the years by the Chamber and a few elected officials about the necessity of I-73 to provide a connection to Interstate 95, local residents have remained unconvinced of the purported benefits of the project.

Many of those who cried the loudest – the Chamber, Clemmons and U.S. Congressman Tom Rice – have been collectively unsuccessful at acquiring funding for the project at the state and federal levels.

Read more ›

Eldridge’s Tangled Web of Contradictions

March 10, 2019 4:31 AM
Eldridge’s Tangled Web of Contradictions

Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge spun a tangled web of contradictions with his responses to council at last week’s special council meeting during which Eldridge told his version of how SLED was called to investigate Chairman Johnny Gardner.

Eldridge was grilled by council members Al Allen, Johnny Vaught, Danny Hardee, Orton Bellamy and Paul Prince on why all members of council were neither consulted prior to calling for a SLED investigation nor told about a request to SLED after it was made.

Most of council had to read about the matter being referred to SLED and SLED investigating the allegations in articles published by Columbia media outlet Fitsnews. And it was those articles that caused Eldridge the most difficulty last week.

As demonstrated by his December 12, 2018 email to Neyle Wilson and Sandy Davis of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, county attorney Arrigo Carotti, county chairman Mark Lazarus and council member Gary Loftus, Eldridge already had his story firmly in mind about what happened during a lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot, Davis and her co-worker Sherri Steele.

Eldridge accused EDC of not allowing him access to a tape recording of the meeting after Wilson had already offered twice to allow Eldridge to listen to the recording in an email of December 7, 2018 with a follow up email December 12th. It was Wilson’s December 12th email that elicited Eldridge’s confusing accusations to Wilson.

One other interesting point, while Eldridge used the business emails of Wilson, Davis and Carotti, he used the personal emails of Lazarus and Loftus. Was he trying to hide this from other council members?

After ultimately listening to the recording on December 19, 2019, Eldridge sent a five-page memo, authored by Carotti, by email to all council members after 6 p.m. at night. The Carotti memo was leaked to Fitsnews virtually immediately and appeared less than 12 hours later on the media outlet’s website.

Eldridge stated several times during the special council meeting that no council members other than Lazarus and Loftus knew about his allegations until they received Carotti’s memo.

Read more ›

I-73 Votes Ignore Immediate Local Needs

February 11, 2019 4:31 AM
I-73 Votes Ignore Immediate Local Needs

The I-73 participation agreement Horry County signed with SCDOT in December, at the urging of administrator Chris Eldridge and former council chairman Mark Lazarus, ignores local road needs, highlighted by recent flooding issues, for a new road that is years and over one billion unidentified and uncommitted dollars from completion.

When county council adopted Resolution 82-18 in July 2018, it specifically dedicated up to $25 million toward the I-73 project only. With this resolution in place, the county may not use any of this money toward repair or improvements to U.S. 501, S.C 9 or other roads in the county as flooding events since Hurricane Floyd in 1999 have shown to be needed. These funds can be used to improve S.C. 22 as that is part of the I-73 project.

There has been a general rush to dedicate funds for I-73 since right after the June 2018 primaries. Council held a special meeting on July 24, 2018 where Resolution 82-18 was passed which dedicated up to $25 million per year of 1.5% Hospitality Fee revenue to the I-73 project.

Staff immediately began conversations with SCDOT to develop and present the I-73 participation agreement. During the November 28, 2018 fall budget workshop, council approved allowing the administrator to execute the participation agreement with SCDOT. The agreement was executed by administrator Eldridge for the county and Christy Hall, the state Transportation Secretary on December 13, 2018.

At the July 2018 special meeting council also passed Resolution 84-18 directing staff to develop a plan to use $18 million of the 1.5% Hospitality Fee revenue on public safety and other roads. In addition, the resolution directed staff to draft an amendment to Section 19-6(h) of the Horry County Code of Ordinances, which currently requires all of the 1.5% revenue to be deposited in a Special Road Fund. The amendment would allow the $18 million to be used on other state approved tourism related expenses such as public safety, recreation, storm water and other infrastructure improvements.

To date no amendment has been presented to council. The amendment would require a three reading ordinance to become law. In addition, no plan for use of the $18 million has been presented.

Read more ›