Post Tagged with: "Mark Lazarus"

Enhancement for Fire and EMS Personnel Missing from Horry County Budget

May 21, 2018 7:30 AM
Enhancement for Fire and EMS Personnel Missing from Horry County Budget

CORRECTION CORRECTION
I received a call from Mark Lazarus this morning. Lazarus informed me that I was incorrect in what I reported about Fire and EMS enhancements. After reviewing the tape of the Spring Budget Retreat, before first reading of the budget during the Spring Budget Retreat, council voted to amend the budget to include the extra three percent increase for fire fighters from the county’s Fire Fund and I originally reported it incorrectly below as not being in the budget. I did not see any amendment to appropriate general fund money for the EMS workers. Lazarus informed me that the EMS increase is also in the budget from first reading on and he took exception to my use of the word retribution.

From: Powell, Justin Sent: Monday, May 21, 2018 10:51 AM
To: Mark Lazarus
Cc: Eldridge, Chris ; Spivey, Barry ; Huffman, Joe
Subject: FW: Budget Ordinance Proposed Vs. 1st Reading Revised for 2nd Reading

Mark:

The second reading ordinance adopted by County Council included all proposed increases for public safety, both law enforcement and Fire and Rescue. The first reading ordinance initially proposed to County Council included the $1/hour increase for all law enforcement (Police, Sheriff, Detention). Hence, no amendment was required.

During adoption of first reading on March 23, a motion was made to adopt the Fire and Rescue increases that were proposed on March 22. This is found at approximately 1:49:00 on the video from that day. Given that amendment, the second reading ordinance submitted to County Council included the increase for Fire and Rescue as adopted by County Council.

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Treasurer Drops Lawsuit, County Refuses to Disclose Legal Costs

May 18, 2018 9:41 AM
Treasurer Drops Lawsuit, County Refuses to Disclose Legal Costs

Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones yesterday filed to dismiss her lawsuit against Horry County and county administrator Chris Eldridge with prejudice for all events that relate to the lawsuit up through the date of filing, May 17, 2018.

Jones initially filed her lawsuit in November 2017 after county government refused to add one additional administrative assistant position to the current year budget for the Treasurer’s Office. Jones said the amount of additional funds the position would have required was approximately $43,000 including salary and benefit costs.

The dismissal does not affect Jones’ potential “to assert claims relating to future circumstances that may arise,” according to the filing.

Related to Jones’ filing, the county dismissed all claims against Jones related to its Amended Answer and Counterclaims.

According to the stipulation of dismissal, each party is solely responsible for its own costs and attorneys’ fees.

On May 3, 2018, this reporter filed a Freedom  of Information Act request with Horry County Government for “Total amount to date spent by Horry County to McNair Law Firm specifically for legal services pursuant to the Horry County Treasurer/Angie Jones v. Horry County government and Administrator Chris Eldridge.”

Henrietta Golding of the McNair Law Firm was lead attorney for the county’s defense.

On May 17, 2018, the same day the dismissals were filed with the court, Horry County Public Information Specialist Kelly Brosky sent the following response to my request, “Your request for information is not covered under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act and is declined.”

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Horry County Infrastructure Myths and Facts

May 14, 2018 3:23 AM
Horry County Infrastructure Myths and Facts

Infrastructure, especially roads, is on many minds as campaigning moves to the June 12, 2018 primary elections.

Some questionnaires being sent to candidates for various council seats include one or more questions about infrastructure planning.

Four years ago, Mark Lazarus promised voters he would “Fight for greater investment in new and current roads.”

In some of his early campaign statements this time around, Lazarus has pointed to the Ride III initiative and International Drive as personal successes.

This is misleading.

Council has little to do with the Ride projects. A prioritized list is presented from an independent committee to council on which it votes up or down for the entire list. Council may not make any deletions or additions. If council approves the list, and it always does, the citizens vote on a referendum question whether to adopt a one-cent sales tax to fund the Ride program.

As far as International Drive is concerned, if any current member of council deserves credit for keeping the issue moving toward completion it is Johnny Vaught. It was Vaught’s uncle, retired Lt. Gen. James Vaught, who initially addressed the need for International Drive and continued to push for the project from the early 2000’s until his death in September 2013. I can still hear Vaught addressing council several times on the importance of International Drive always ending with “Get it done.”

After Johnny Vaught was elected to council in November 2014, he picked up where his uncle left off in seeing the project to completion next month.

A recent Facebook video on the Lazarus campaign page touts on to greater infrastructure as it pictures the Farrow Parkway interchange with U.S. 17 Bypass.

This is an unfortunate choice of roads to feature as it depicts one of the more outrageous projects the county has undertaken.

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Alternate Reality and the $12 Million Swamp Land Purchase

May 9, 2018 4:13 AM
Alternate Reality and the $12 Million Swamp Land Purchase

A purported fact check by the Mark Lazarus campaign of the story I wrote on the $12 million purchase of swamp land near International Drive demonstrates an alternate reality exists in the race for the Republican nomination for council chairman.

The fact check pointed to four areas in the story that the Lazarus campaign chose to label “false.”

Let’s see. (See copy of post below)

The first two truths are a convoluted explanation of watersheds, mitigation credits and costs. What this all boils down to is that the purchase of the parcel on International Drive was completed in haste with only general ideas about what the Army Corps of Engineers will approve in a mitigation bank and what the Corps will deem wetlands disturbance areas in the Ride III projects.

No other parcel in the county was considered in the haste to purchase this parcel.

The excuse for the purchase on International Drive was used as proximity in the same watershed as the projects requiring mitigation. South Carolina mitigation is generally completed in seven major areas of the state of which the Pee Dee watershed is one. All of Horry County, except for the extreme southern region of the county, lies within the Pee Dee watershed.

There are sub-unit watersheds in the Pee Dee basin of which the Little Pee Dee and the Waccamaw River watersheds include most of the county. Mitigation is allowed between watersheds with some adjustments in credits as determined by the Corps of Engineers. There would certainly be no problem mitigating between the Little Pee Dee and Waccamaw River watersheds if it is even necessary. It is probable that lying within the larger Pee Dee watershed is enough.

Again we ask why weren’t wetlands in the western area of the county (where the cost is cheaper) considered and compared to the International Drive parcel if it was absolutely necessary for Horry County to establish a mitigation bank, which I submit it was not.

To truth three, I again submit there is a hidden agenda here that precluded consideration of any land other than the International Drive parcel despite the possibility other parcels could have provided significant savings to the county.

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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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Press Conference Touts Johnny Gardner Candidacy

May 1, 2018 6:00 PM
Press Conference Touts Johnny Gardner Candidacy

(Pictured above left to right – Chuck Canterbury, Rob Mullaney (podium) and Roger Odachowski)

A joint press conference Tuesday morning including Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police and a retired Horry County police officer, Roger Odachowski, President of the South Carolina Professional Fire Fighters Association of the International Association of Fire Fighters and Rob Mullaney, President Horry County Professional Fire Fighters Local 4345 of the IAFF, spoke of the reasons challenger Johnny Gardner has received the endorsement of their respective associations for Horry County Council Chairman.

Canterbury said Gardner’s willingness to sit down with FOP officials and discuss the county’s needs and explore solutions to the problems of understaffing in the police department was an important consideration for the endorsement.

“It is clear to our members that Johnny Gardner is the man to lead council,” said Canterbury. “He cares about this county and its people.”

Canterbury said current council chairman Mark Lazarus had cancelled several meetings for the same type of discussions.

“The only time Lazarus kept an appointment to meet with us was when he was seeking our endorsement,” Canterbury said.

Canterbury said HCPD is approximately 200 patrol officers below what is needed based on the population and area of Horry County.

Odachowski said Horry County Fire Rescue is approximately 230 fire fighters short based on the call volume and national averages for properly manning the county’s 41 fire stations. He said most county fire fighters suffer from fatigue due to 48 hour shifts and the call volume they respond to.

Odachowski spoke of a presentation he made to Horry County Council last winter during public input and the response he received. During the presentation, Odachowski offered solutions available from the IAFF but mispronounced Horry County several times.

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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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Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 Endorses Johnny Gardner for County Council Chairman

April 27, 2018 4:16 AM
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 Endorses Johnny Gardner for County Council Chairman

Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 unanimously endorsed the candidacy of Johnny Gardner for Horry County Council Chairman during its monthly meeting Thursday night.

A donation to Gardner’s campaign by Coastal Carolina FOP Lodge 12 accompanied the endorsement.

Gardner is challenging incumbent Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus in the upcoming June 12, 2018 Republican Primary.

Membership in Lodge 12 includes active and retired law enforcement officers from Horry, Georgetown and Marion Counties.

FOP National President Chuck Canterbury, a retired officer from Horry County Police Department, said, “We are committed to support Johnny Gardner. We plan to work very diligently to help him get elected. We plan to put our shoe leather where our mouth is.”

Canterbury said many Horry County officers feel public safety is not a priority among county officials at this time. Canterbury said HCPD used to be a “go to” police department where trained, experienced officers lined up to join the department. Now it is a department where officers get training and experience under their belt, then move to another department where pay and benefits are considerably better.

“We believe Johnny Gardner is the best candidate “to help secure the county and help provide a safe environment for the citizens,” Canterbury said.

Gardner said he was very humbled to receive the endorsement from FOP Lodge 12.

“I feel very humbled and very fortunate to receive the endorsement from Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12,” Gardner said. “First responders are the people who go to work every day to keep the rest of us safe. They deserve the loyalty, respect and appreciation of the county government they serve.”

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Horry County Spins More Negativity Toward Treasurer

April 20, 2018 4:00 AM
Horry County Spins More Negativity Toward Treasurer

Horry County officials again put a negative spin on comments about the Horry County Treasurer’s Office in a story by a local news outlet this week.

The story questioned Treasurer Angie Jones hiring of former Horry County Clerk of Courts Melanie Huggins-Ward to clear up the backlog of tax refunds owed to Horry County taxpayers.

The issue dates back to July 6, 2017, three days after Jones took office. Jones requested the county contract with Huggins-Ward for a part-time position to work on the refund backlog.

Assistant County Administrator Justin Powell responded by saying Jones was $20,591.72 over budget based on proposed salaries. He also included the following statement: “It is my understanding it is financially favorable to her (Huggins-Ward) to work as a contractor rather than as an employee because it prevents her pension from being cut off after earning $10,000 with the county. Human Resources is contacting the South Carolina Retirement System and IRS this morning to ask their opinion on the use of a contract to circumvent the SCRS earnings limitations on retirees. The last thing any of us wants is the appearance of an attempt to “game” the Internal Revenue Code or laws governing the South Carolina Retirement System.”

County officials made certain this email was included in documents provided to the media outlet. Of course, the comment about ‘gaming the system’ was jumped all over.

It appears this was the intention of county officials all along, because an email to Jones from Horry County Human Resources Director Patrick Owens bearing the same July 6, 2017 date was not included, but contained the following suggestion:

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Handicapping the Race for County Council Chairman Nomination

April 13, 2018 4:01 AM
Handicapping the Race for County Council Chairman Nomination

Since filing for office closed March 30th, my friend and cohost on “Talking Politics”, John Bonsignor, has been trying to make the case that Johnny Gardner is not a serious challenger to incumbent Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus in the June 2018 Republican Primary election.

One thing John and I have proved through the years is that we can disagree (often) without being disagreeable.

I recently wrote about Gardner receiving the endorsement of Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 IAFF. John responded with a diatribe on why Lazarus has nothing to worry about from Gardner in the primary, in John’s opinion.

John and I have lived in Horry County for over 30 years each, so I want to go back through history a little to demonstrate that an incumbent officeholder is not a shoe-in candidate for re-election.

It is often difficult to defeat an incumbent officeholder, but far from an impossible task.

Sheriff Philip Thompson was an underdog when he first ran for the office in 2000 against incumbent Teddy Henry. I remember Chicken Bog socials with Thompson speaking from the back of a truck to voters throughout the county. Accompanying Thompson on these journeys were off-duty officers from the Horry County Police Department showing their support for him. Ultimately, Thompson obtained the support of a majority of county employees and that made the difference in the election.

Melanie Huggins for Horry County Clerk of Courts and Roddy Dickinson for Horry County Treasurer, both in 2004, are other interesting examples. Incumbents were retiring from both offices, but Huggins was opposed by former Clerk of Courts Billie Richardson, coming out of retirement to run again. Dickinson was opposed by Robert Rabon, later to be Horry County Republican chairman. Richardson and Rabon had more money and the support of political insiders, but Huggins and Dickinson won primarily on the strength of a majority of county employees and their friends who supported them.

When Huggins and Dickinson retired, Angie Jones for Treasurer and Renee Elvis for Clerk of Court both won election to their current offices in 2016 on the strength of major support from county employees.

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