Post Tagged with: "Sandy Davis"

Will the Deep Six Continue to Allow the Administrator and Attorney to Embarrass Horry County?

March 25, 2019 4:26 AM
Will the Deep Six Continue to Allow the Administrator and Attorney to Embarrass Horry County?

A specially called meeting of Horry County Council tonight is scheduled to discuss renewing the contract of county administrator Chris Eldridge, which expires April 21, 2019.

What is really to be discussed here is whether council members expect Chairman Johnny Gardner to continue to have attempt to work with Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti after those two were unsuccessful in an attempt to smear Gardner even before he took office on January 1, 2019.

Six council members, Harold Worley, Dennis DiSabato, Tyler Servant, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus and Bill Howard, the Deep Six as I call them, voted against firing county administrator Chris Eldridge on March 5th, after the results of a SLED investigation cleared Gardner of allegations of wrongdoing lodged by Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti.

Three of them, Worley, DiSabato and Loftus, claimed the results of the SLED investigation did not warrant firing Eldridge. The other three, Crawford, Servant and Howard, didn’t even have the courtesy to explain to the collected citizens viewing the proceedings their reasons for voting as they did.

Gardner said he has no confidence in either Carotti or Eldridge.

“People will never understand how difficult it was for me to remain calm and move forward with the business of the county with those allegations against me,” Gardner said. “But, I knew I didn’t do anything wrong and I trusted in the system, a criminal justice system I have been a part of for over 30 years, to conclude the truth. Now, after a SLED investigation exonerated me of any wrongdoing, I find that the administrator and attorney tried to rig the investigation against me.”

Through emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by media, we know as early as December 12, 2018, Carotti and Eldridge in concert with former chairman Mark Lazarus were constructing a version of conversations, none of which any of the three were part of, in order to allege  wrongdoing by Gardner.

Carotti authored a five-page memo based entirely on hearsay. The memo was completed December 19, 2018, and Eldridge forwarded it to SLED December 20, 2018 after the memo was leaked to a Columbia media outlet.

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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.”

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Recording Confirms No Extortion Attempt

March 2, 2019 8:40 AM
Recording Confirms No Extortion Attempt

A recording that Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti used as a centerpiece of evidence for their allegations of wrongdoing by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner proves the allegations were entirely false.

The full recording of the lunch meeting between Gardner, his business partner Luke Barefoot and Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) executives Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele became entered the public arena yesterday.

The recording was supposedly the ‘smoking gun’ that would prove the Eldridge and Carotti tale of, as Eldridge described in an email, “asking for thousands of dollars to be funneled” to Donald Smith is nowhere to be heard.

What the administrator and attorney believed (hoped?) would add credence to their allegations actually proved how entirely false they were.

I listened to the entire one hour and seven minute recording. Generally it reveals a pleasant lunch meeting whose purpose was to familiarize the incoming council chairman with the workings of the EDC, its current efforts to recruit jobs and the uses of its budget.

There is an approximately four minute segment in which Barefoot and Davis discuss the possibility of contracting with Smith for public relations work for the EDC. Davis explained the procedure for submitting a proposal to the EDC and Barefoot said he understood the EDC procedures. Davis said she would be open to receiving a proposal.

At no time was there ever any threat or other effort to compel Davis to do anything and no mention of payment of thousands of dollars to Smith. Gardner said nothing during that segment of the conversation.

Not ones to let little things like facts get in the way of their efforts to discredit Gardner, Carotti authored a five-page memo laying out the case, which relied entirely on hearsay ‘to the best of Carotti’s recollection’, and Eldridge reported an alleged extortion attempt by Gardner to SLED.

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SLED Said NO! Chris and Arrigo Gotta Go

March 1, 2019 4:32 AM
SLED Said NO! Chris and Arrigo Gotta Go

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson issued a press release and report Thursday evening which included a letter to SLED stating, “Based on the information you uncovered and provided in your report of this investigation, there is no credible evidence of extortion by Luther “Luke” Barefoot or Johnny Gardner…”

A link to the entire 41 page report appears at the end of this story.

Richardson’s report brings to a close an investigation into an alleged extortion attempt by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot.

The allegations were reported to SLED by Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and supported by a five-page memo authored by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.

The allegations centered around comments made, or more appropriately stated not made, during a business meeting at Rivertown Bistro in Conway. Present at the meeting were Gardner, Barefoot, Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Corporation President Sandy Davis and MBREDC Director of Investor Relations Sherri Steele. The meeting was audio recorded and the recording was a key piece of evidence in determining what had not taken place – namely any extortion attempt.

As the Richardson release stated, “The recording of the conversation is consistent in form and content with what Davis, Steele, Barefoot and Gardner described to you in their individual interviews about what was discussed and the manner in which it was discussed.”

The report goes on, “President Davis never told anyone that she felt pressured. President Davis never told anyone that they tried to extort money.”

Director Steele said, “We never felt threatened or felt like we had to hire them or pay them any money.”

All four participants reported that it was “a positive meeting.”

As the report states, “Davis and Steele repeatedly state they were not threatened or extorted and they are the sole eyewitnesses to the event, or non-event as the case may be.”

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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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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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Gardner Victory Top Story in 2018

December 31, 2018 7:07 AM
Gardner Victory Top Story in 2018

Johnny Gardner’s primary victory over incumbent Mark Lazarus to become the Chairman of Horry County Council beginning tomorrow is the top story for 2018.

As the incumbent, Lazarus was endorsed by a number of elected officials in the county including U. S. Rep. Tom Rice, most of the county legislative delegation members, his 11 co-members of county council and most of the county’s mayors. He was also supported by most of the Myrtle Beach Chamber crowd and those others in the county who consider themselves power brokers.

Gardner was supported by a vast majority of the employees of Horry County Government including endorsements by the public safety fraternal organizations Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 of the International Association of Firefighters and Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12. He was also supported by a majority of those voters often overlooked by Horry County politicos and power brokers – the average citizens.

The 2018 election cycle was a change cycle in Horry County. Three out of four incumbents who received serious challenges in either the primaries or general election lost and the fourth squeaked by with just over a 30 vote victory margin.

Supporting the concept that Gardner’s victory was the most watched of those four are events that have happened since the June 12th primary.

Horry County voters supported an advisory referendum on changing the state impact fee law to require new development to pay for more of its costs by a nearly three out of four margin (73% to 27%).

Developers rushed to get a number of rezonings approved in the last six months of the year, but not without some significant defeats along the way.

County staff “discovered” that more of the approximately $41 million of hospitality tax revenue could be used for areas such as public safety, infrastructure and recreation than they had previously acknowledged.

Lazarus led a major push to have council pass a resolution approving a contract with the S. C. Department of Transportation for rights of way acquisition, engineering and construction of I-73 in Horry County. Part of that resolution designates $25 million per year of hospitality tax revenue to go into a special road fund for the I-73 project but the resolution is not a hard appropriation of tax dollars.

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What is the Purpose of the Leaked Carotti Email?

December 23, 2018 6:50 AM
What is the Purpose of the Leaked Carotti Email?

A leaked five page email headed “Attorney Client Privileged” provided the big story in Horry County and state media in the last few days, but questions about the accuracy of the email contents raise questions about why it was produced.

The email from county attorney Arrigo Carotti to incumbent council members and county administrator Chris Eldridge supposedly was a confidential missive to inform council members about possible improper “threats” that allegedly occurred during a meeting between recently sworn in council chairman Johnny Gardner and Luke Barefoot with EDC President/CEO Sandy Davis and her number two Sherri Steele.

But the email goes further by speaking of various conversations, either by phone or in person, which occurred over a two week period. The only record of these conversations is Carotti’s memory. He states in his five page tale the conversations began on December 5th. But Carotti only began writing his email from memory of those conversations (to the best of his recollection) on December 14th.

It is this email that attempts to make a recording of the Gardner/Davis meeting sound potentially sinister.

This is the same email of which Davis told media after it was leaked, “A lot of it is fabricated.”

With the email playing such a large part in the story, I asked a prominent (and in my opinion brilliant) local attorney to provide me with his analysis of the five page missive.

The following quotes are from that analysis:

 “A question that jumps out at me is – he (Carotti) starts keeping a Watergate-styled narrative on his computer on Dec 14, as a result of events that started December 5, because “memory fades over time.” We’re talking about nine days!  What kind of nonsense is that?”

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Davis Calls Carotti Email Fabricated

December 21, 2018 9:31 AM
Davis Calls Carotti Email Fabricated

Sandy Davis, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation and primary source for information contained in an email county attorney Arrigo Carotti sent to council members Wednesday night, an email I reported on yesterday, was quoted in a story on the MyHorryNews.com website yesterday as saying about the email, “A lot of it was fabricated.”

Davis also told reporter Charles Perry that the narrative about extortion is false and that a tape recording of a meeting she had with Johnny Gardner reflects that fact.

Davis’ “on the record” comments to Perry totally undercut what Carotti, apparently in association with county administrator Chris Eldridge, was trying to portray in his email.

It now appears that Carotti’s missive was not created so much to inform council members of any facts, but rather to be leaked to a sympathetic media outlet in Columbia for a sensationalized story that would get the words “Johnny Gardner”and “extortion” into public view on the same day Gardner was being sworn in as the new Horry County Council Chairman..

Carotti’s email was sent to council members late Wednesday afternoon. The story appeared Thursday morning including the complete email.

How did this happen if the intent was not to immediately leak the email, headed by the words “Attorney Client Privilege” to give it the appearance of legitimacy?

The audio recording of the Gardner meeting also brings interesting questions to this issue. Eldridge was aware of the recording in early December. An email from EDC board chairman Neyle Wilson to Eldridge dated December 7, 2018 suggested to Eldridge that he “listen to the tape recording first and then decide whether you need to go any further.”

A follow up email from Wilson to Eldridge on December 12, 2018 stated, “Good morning Chris. I have not heard back from you on the below offer to listen to the recording. Please let me know if you accept this offer and if so, give me some dates and times that you can come to the EDC office.”

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