Post Tagged with: "special interests"

Incumbents Rule Primary Elections

June 10, 2020 7:32 AM
Incumbents Rule Primary Elections

Primary election night was ruled by incumbents at all levels.

Only one incumbent lost, Janice Morreale in the District 5 school board race, and that was not a loss to a newcomer. Former county councilman for that district, Howard Barnard, defeated Morreale. Barnard gave up his council seat when he unsuccessfully ran for council chairman 10 years ago.

There will be newcomers to the county council District Nine seat and Horry County Auditor as incumbents Paul Prince and Lois Eargle, respectively, did not seek reelection. Both races will go to a primary runoff in two weeks with Mark Causey and Terry Fowler squaring off for District 10 and R. A. Johnson facing Beth Calhoun for Auditor.

One other incumbent, Sen. Luke Rankin, was forced to a runoff with challenger John Gallman in two weeks as either failed to get over 50 percent of the votes cast.

The victories by the incumbents effectively guarantee that the special interests in the county will play a big role over the next several years to the detriment of average citizens.

There is no doubt there will be a renewed effort to use county tax revenues, not state or federal dollars, to construct the Interstate 73 section in Horry County.

Likewise, developers will continue their push to build anywhere they wish, as much as they wish without any consideration for existing infrastructure and public safety needs of the areas to be developed.

Expect any county council attempt to pass impact fees on new development to be foiled and flood mitigation to be put on the back burner as special interests strive to make as much profit as possible.

There is no doubt that the Covid 19 epidemic played a part in the loss of the challengers as they were restricted in any ability to address groups of voters. Incumbents already had familiarity and name recognition going for them.

However, the basic fault lies with voters, or rather lack of them.

Read more ›

Emotions Running High as Elections Near

June 6, 2020 6:08 AM
Emotions Running High as Elections Near

Earlier this week I wrote an article about several candidates in the upcoming Republican primary elections to which some readers took offense.

That’s fine. Democracy is supposed to be messy and I don’t expect people to agree with me all the time nor I with them. If that were to happen, we wouldn’t have a democratic society, we would have a cult.

Some of the people who took difference to what I wrote were important members of the citizens’ groups who helped elect Johnny Gardner as Horry County Council Chairman in 2018.

Their and my primary goal is to elect candidates who will represent the general citizenry of Horry County, not special interests.

Specifically, they believed I was attacking Terry Fowler, a candidate for county council in District 9.

Actually that was not what I intended. What I intended was to criticize that many seemed to choose Fowler as ‘their’ candidate very early on before all the candidates in the race were even known.

When some of those other candidates emerged and a choice was already made by some voters, those candidates were immediately dismissed as candidates of the people because they sell real estate.

I don’t believe people should be condemned merely because of the job they have or the people they know.

If that were the case, consider this: there are ties in the Fowler family to a former job with what I categorize as a premier member of what I call the Myrtle Beach Mafia.  This employer was in the midst of the $325,000 in campaign donations to local and state incumbents who were responsible for the establishment and enactment of the tourism development fee in Myrtle Beach, as well as other special interest issues.

This is the same person who was a strong supporter and former business associate of Mark Lazarus, the former council chairman.

But, it goes further than employment. Only one candidate in the District 9 race has spoken with Gardner about county issues. That candidate, one of the real estate write-offs, is the only candidate in the District 9 race to date who has pledged to support the passage of impact fees in Horry County.

Read more ›

Citizens or Special Interests – County Council Direction Will be Decided by June Primaries

April 20, 2020 7:33 AM
Citizens or Special Interests – County Council Direction Will be Decided by June Primaries

The direction county council will take over the next several years will likely be determined by three contested races in the Republican Primary to be held on June 9, 2020.

Those three races are Horry County Districts 3, 4 and 6, currently held by incumbents Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus and Cam Crawford, respectively. Those three council members have consistently been stooges for the special interests in the county.

DiSabato, Loftus and Crawford were consistent “yes” votes for any initiative former council chairman Mark Lazarus brought to the table. The purchase of approximately 3,700 acres of wetlands off of International for $12 million of taxpayer money is one example that quickly comes to mind.

The parcel purchased by the county was part of a larger parcel purchased by a developer in Virginia years ago. The wetlands couldn’t be developed so the county purchased the land with the purported goal of establishing a wetland mitigation bank to be used when capital projects required mitigation credits for disturbing wetlands. No other parcel in the county was considered, no record of a request for proposals was sent out by the county.

The three stooges voted in lockstep to spend county money for land that was basically useless to the developer for the price of approximately $3,243 per acre.

After Lazarus was defeated for reelection, DiSabato, Crawford and Loftus were charter members for what I dubbed the Deep Six, council members who fought long and hard to keep former county administrator Chris Eldridge in office after Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti lodged groundless accusations of extortion against current chairman Johnny Gardner, who defeated Lazarus, Eldridge’s strongest supporter on council.

Anyone who watched the March 2019 special council meeting, called to remove Eldridge, will recall DiSabato launching into accusations against Gardner after an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) concluded the accusations were without any merit.

The three stooges voted not to fire Eldridge in March, ultimately costing the taxpayers of Horry County $350,000 when council voted to buy out Eldridge’s contract in April 2019 rather than firing him one month before.

DiSabato, Crawford and Loftus have been consistent supporters of having county taxpayers fund construction of Interstate 73. Constructing I-73 remains a major goal of special interests in the county who will benefit financially from construction of the road.

Read more ›

Filing for Elected Office Begins in Two Weeks, Trouble for Incumbents?

March 2, 2020 10:33 AM
Filing for Elected Office Begins in Two Weeks, Trouble for Incumbents?

In two weeks candidate filing for the 2020 election cycle for state and local offices will begin.

Candidate filing begins at noon March 16, 2020. The local primary elections will be held June 9, 2020 with the winners of the primaries going on to the November 3, 2020 general election.

All seats in the General Assembly will be up for election, both House and Senate. Locally, five county council seats and five school board seats will be contested as well as the county wide offices of Sheriff, Treasurer, Auditor, Clerk of Courts, Probate Judge, Solicitor and Coroner.

In a one party county and state such as Horry and South Carolina, the primaries are where the real action will take place.

An anti-incumbent trend against elected officials in legislative positions was prevalent in the 2018 elections. Three out of four incumbents for either county council or the S.C. House of Representatives who were challenged by new candidates lost their seats. The fourth managed to squeak back into office by a margin of 31 votes.

There is no reason to expect that trend won’t continue in this election cycle.

Flooding resulting from what is seen by the voters as uncontrolled development in the county is a top issue with voters. One only has to see the “Tired of Flooding, Vote Them Out” signs along county roads to understand incumbents are in trouble with voters.

The lack of maintenance and enhancement of existing infrastructure while new projects such as Interstate 73 are pushed by legislators is seen as another significant problem for incumbents.

And the eternal question in the county of who or what influences incumbents when they cast their votes will be up for interpretation by voters. Do the incumbents vote for issues pushed by developers, the Chamber of Commerce and other special interests who fund their campaigns or do they consider what is in the best interests of the citizens they represent when voting?

The answer to that question may decide a number of races in June depending on how many incumbents are challenged.

Read more ›

County Council Adds More Controversy to Hospitality Fee Settlement

December 17, 2019 5:55 PM
County Council Adds More Controversy to Hospitality Fee Settlement

Horry County Council approved an amended settlement agreement at its special meeting Monday night that added to the controversy regarding settling the hospitality fee lawsuit.

Council split 7-5 on votes to amend the settlement agreement and to approve the settlement agreement as amended. Those voting for the agreement were Johnny Vaught, Dennis DiSabato, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftis, Bill Howard, Tyler Servant and Orton Bellamy.

The Deep Six (Vaught, DiSabato, Crawford, Loftis, Servant and Howard) can always be counted on to support anything the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber and other special interests in the county want. Vaught is counting on that group to fund his run for chairman in two years while DiSabato, Crawford and Loftis expect significant donations from special interests to fund their upcoming reelection campaigns.

The special interests want I-73, they fall in line to keep it in play.

Voting against the settlement were Chairman Johnny Gardner, Harold Worley, Al Allen, Danny Hardee and Paul Prince.

As Worley said at the beginning of open debate on the question, the elephant in the room was I-73.

The settlement agreement as presented Monday night would provide approximately $14.5 million per year toward I-73. As Worley pointed out this amount is a drop in the bucket for a project that will require approximately $670 million to complete the road in Horry County, $1.3 billion to reach I-95 and over $2 billion for the total project to the North Carolina border in Marlboro County.

But the drop in the bucket is important to those landowners in Horry County who will benefit from right of way purchases for the road and the engineering and other businesses who will profit from the early design and site work for the project.

The federal and state governments will have to come in with significant money for the road to ever be completed but the local special interests can realize a significant income from the early work that can be paid for if the county contributes. Like always, it’s all about the money.

Read more ›

Administrator Process Clouded by Change vs. Selfish Agendas

June 25, 2019 9:20 AM
Administrator Process Clouded by Change vs. Selfish Agendas

As we come within 24 hours of the interview process for the county administrator candidates, I wonder what, if any, last minute attempts will be made to usurp the process by council members supporting interim administrator Steve Gosnell.

Make no mistake, any council member who tries at this late date to stop the public interview process is only following the directions of those special interests in the background who have his ear and his own selfish agenda.

Since those special interests were unsuccessful at keeping former administrator Chris Eldridge in place, their main goal has been to replace Eldridge with someone who wouldn’t ‘rock the boat’ as county administrator.

At the beginning of this process Gosnell said he didn’t want the position. Then, three stories about how he decided to seek the position rose and Johnny Vaught became his champion. There is a reason other than Gosnell’s eagerness why the push is on so hard to get him appointed.

And then there is the problem of the employment of Gosnell’s wife with the county and how his appointment as administrator could affect her employment because of state law, even though by all accounts she is an excellent employee. Johnny Vaught said she could just go to work for an elected official. What elected official wants to step into this mess?

Gosnell will not represent change. He is not the person by temperament or inclination to make needed changes in the personnel or internal operation of Horry County Government.

This is exactly why those council members who have been working hard to engineer Gosnell’s selection as county administrator want him to have the job. The special interests who have the ear of those council members, those expected to fund upcoming election campaigns, don’t want change.

Let’s just look at two examples of what could be interesting public interviews on Wednesday.

Read more ›

County Administrator Applications Close While Vaught Continues Hijacking Attempt

June 6, 2019 3:30 AM
County Administrator Applications Close While Vaught Continues Hijacking Attempt

The application period for a new, permanent county administrator closed yesterday while council member Johnny Vaught continued his attempts to hijack the entire process in favor of interim administrator Steve Gosnell.

As recently as Tuesday, Vaught was maintaining that he had the votes of 9 – 10 council members to appoint Gosnell to the permanent position. This is before all applications were in, before the qualifications of any of the applicants were assessed and before any interviews were conducted to determine who might be the best person to lead the administration of Horry County Government going forward.

After former administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti failed in their attempt to discredit incoming chairman Johnny Gardner and it became obvious Eldridge had to go, Gosnell said at that time he didn’t even want the administrator job on an interim basis.

Ultimately, after Eldridge was separated from his county employment, Gosnell did accept the interim job but, with the provision he could return to his job as Infrastructure and Regulation Division head.

When the application process for the permanent position opened, Gosnell said he did not know that he would even apply.

Still, Vaught pursued his personal agenda to keep Gosnell in place. But, Vaught’s personal agenda is not what the county needs at this time.

Gosnell is a nice man and has been a good county engineer. However, with only two years to go until retirement and having served in the senior staff of the failed Eldridge administration, he is not what is needed for the county to move forward to realize its potential.

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 ›

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.

Read more ›

Is Machiavelli Writing S.C. House Road Plan?

January 31, 2015 7:36 AM
Is Machiavelli Writing S.C. House Road Plan?

The S.C. House plan to fix roads is still in the planning stages, but the politics in it resembles the best thoughts of Niccolo Machiavelli.

Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, will, reportedly, introduce the plan next week. Simrill chaired a special committee over the summer and fall that developed the plan.

Highlights of the plan include lowering the state’s gas tax at the pumps from its current 16.75 cents to 10.75 cents, but it would add a six percent sales tax to gas sales at the wholesale level. Not only would the wholesale tax be passed on to the consumer by being added to the price of gas at the pump, but it would increase overall gas taxes paid by the end consumer. (If you reduce a tax by 6 cents, but add back a 6 percent tax, any price over $1 per gallon results in a tax increase. Low as gas prices are right now, they are still considerably more than $1.)

Read more ›