Post Tagged with: "Steve Gosnell"

County Government Fault Lines Exposed on Fire Department Morale Issue

July 12, 2019 6:42 AM
County Government Fault Lines Exposed on Fire Department Morale Issue

The exchange at Tuesday night’s council meeting between council member Danny Hardee, Fire Chief Joseph Tanner and Deputy Chief Jack Walker highlighted some of the problems that must be fixed in the inner workings of Horry County Government.

Speaking as a point of personal privilege, Hardee talked directly to the top two fire department officials about morale and other personnel issues within the department.

As Chairman of the county’s Public Safety Committee, Hardee was trying to do the right thing, but he did it the wrong way.

Under state law governing the county’s council/administrator form of government, Hardee should have been addressing administrator Steve Gosnell, not the heads of a county department. The following extract from Title IV of state law applies:

“SECTION 4‑9‑660. Authority of council and its members over county officers and employees.

Except for the purposes of inquiries and investigations, the council shall deal with county officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the county administrator solely through the administrator, and neither the council nor its members shall give orders or instructions to any such officers or employees.”

Hardee was not speaking to the two fire officers as part of any formal inquiry or investigation. According to his own statement, Hardee was speaking from notes he took from informal meetings he has held with fire department personnel in various fire stations throughout the county.

There was a breakdown of protocol at several levels as Hardee spoke. Council Chairman Johnny Gardner should have gaveled down Hardee for being out of order. He did not.

Administrator Gosnell should have told Hardee such a conversation should be held between the administrator and council member, but not during a regular meeting of council as it involved employees who work for the administrator, not council. He did not.

County Attorney Arrigo Carotti should have told Hardee the conversation was not proper under state law and that such remarks should be addressed to the administrator during a meeting between the administrator and council member, otherwise legal issues could arise.

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Another Hospitality Fee Filing, Another Email, More County Lunacy

July 2, 2019 1:21 PM
Another Hospitality Fee Filing, Another Email, More County Lunacy

The City of Myrtle Beach filed a supplemental memorandum Monday in support of its lawsuit against Horry County’s continued collection of hospitality fees.

Leading the memorandum is an affidavit by North Myrtle Beach City Manager Michael Mahaney providing evidence of the county’s continued collection of the hospitality fee in the City of North Myrtle Beach after June 21, 2019, and supporting a June 26, 2019 motion by Myrtle Beach for the county to show cause why it was not in contempt of a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Seals on June 21, 2019 prohibiting same.

Included in the filing was an email originated by attorney Henrietta Golding who is representing the county in the lawsuit.

The email appears to have evolved out of the string of emails that were the subject of several media stories yesterday. The email that appears to have started the string was sent by former county council chairman Mark Lazarus to Golding.

In her email, Goldings criticizes the judge and the temporary restraining order the judge issued against the county for having “many errors”; states, “This is solely the fault of Myrtle Beach” and appears to discuss the county’s strategy in moving forward by saying the county will try to get a “supersedeas” and saying “if the county took steps to suspend the ordinance (creating the hospitality fee), then probably create legal issues detrimental to the county.”

Golding’s email was sent to Lazarus, county council members Johnny Vaught, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant and Dennis DiSabato, interim administrator Steve Gosnell, county attorney Arrigo Carotti, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley, Mahaney and Surfside Beach City Manager Dennis Pieper.

The choice of recipients is confusing as Golding only represents six – the four council members, county administrator and county attorney. Lazarus has no official position with the county since his term ended December 31, 2018. Hatley, Mahaney and Pieper support the position of Myrtle Beach that the county has been illegally collecting the hospitality fees since January 1, 2017 when the original sunset provision of the county hospitality fee ordinance expired.

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Time to End the County’s Hospitality Fee Lunacy

July 1, 2019 11:11 AM
Time to End the County’s Hospitality Fee Lunacy

Events occurring over the last week served to magnify the need for the county and the cities to get past the lunacy that has developed over the county’s efforts to continue collecting a countywide Hospitality Fee that is in all likelihood now illegal.

Myrtle Beach initially filed a lawsuit against the county “for itself and “similarly situated plaintiffs” on March 21, 2019 stating its claims against the county’s continued collection of the hospitality fee and requesting a temporary restraining order on the county’s continued collection of the fee while the case was being litigated.

After District Court Judge Seals issued a temporary restraining order on the county’s continued collection of a 1.5% hospitality fee within the City of Myrtle Beach and “similarly situated plaintiffs”, on June 21, 2019, the cities expected the county to stop collecting the fee within their jurisdictions.

Last Tuesday, the county dashed those expectations by sending out an email announcing it would only stop collecting the fee within Myrtle Beach and would continue to collect it in the other cities in the county as well as the unincorporated areas.

This led to outrage from North Myrtle Beach officials who called the county’s continued collection of the fee within their city “illegal.” In addition, Myrtle Beach filed a new motion requesting the county be required to show cause that it was not in contempt of the judge’s order.

With the angry rhetoric flying, a special meeting of county council was called for June 29, 2019 at which council was expected to vote on a recommendation to suspend collection of the fee within the cities until the lawsuit was settled.

Instead, council convened, immediately went into executive session where, according to sources with knowledge of the discussion, county attorney Arrigo Carotti and attorney Henrietta Golding, representing the county in the case, urged council to “stay the course” and continue collecting the fee in the other cities until ordered not to by the Court. In addition, the attorneys reportedly told council the judge had used the wrong standard of review in making his ruling. Golding filed a request for reconsideration of the ruling and was prepared to take the issue to the S. C. Supreme Court where, she told council, she expected the restraining order would be overturned.

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Horry County Bungled Hospitality Fee Issue

June 28, 2019 7:00 AM
Horry County Bungled Hospitality Fee Issue

Horry County officials look like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight with respect to a Hospitality Fee issue that county government has bungled for at least the past three years.

In a MyHorryNews.com story yesterday, council member Johnny Vaught tried to pass off the latest brouhaha over the continued collection by the county of a 1.5% hospitality fee in every city except Myrtle Beach as a “mistake” because of a misinterpretation of a June 21, 2019 judge’s temporary restraining order.

The order, signed by Judge Seals, suspended collection of the hospitality fee by Horry County in the “City of Myrtle Beach for Itself and a Class of Similarly Situated Plaintiffs,” as the lawsuit is titled.

Additionally, the order denied a request by Horry County that a temporary restraining order be placed against the cities with respect to collection of new accommodations and hospitality taxes the cities respectively passed and are scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2019.

One of the county’s arguments in requesting a TRO against the new city taxes was that they would illegally exceed local hospitality and accommodations tax limits mandated by state law when taken in conjunction with the county hospitality fee.

The city hospitality and accommodations tax ordinances were passed in accordance with entirely separate sections of state law and have nothing to do with the uniform service charge hospitality fee in question, a point I’m not sure county officials entirely understand.

The new city hospitality tax is collected on prepared food and beverages only. The countywide uniform service charge hospitality fee is collected on accommodations, prepared food and beverages, admissions and rental car fees.

On June 25, 2019, the county sent an email to the cities stating it would continue to collect the 1.5% hospitality fee everywhere except within the city limits of Myrtle Beach where it said collection of the fee was temporarily suspended pending final settlement of the lawsuit.

The county’s email immediately caused an outcry from the other cities in the county, led by North Myrtle Beach, which issued a statement saying the county was attempting to continue to “illegally” collect the hospitality fee in the other cities.

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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.

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Huffman Affair Shows Need for Different Leadership

June 13, 2019 3:29 AM
Huffman Affair Shows Need for Different Leadership

The recent resignation of Joseph Huffman from senior staff at Horry County Government demonstrates the need for a new approach to leadership of the county staff.

Huffman, who was the county’s public safety director for two years, resigned after the Mississippi Auditor demanded he repay approximately $6,800 to the state of Mississippi for mismanaging bond money as city manager of Pascagoula.

The mismanagement of the money included depositing the bond proceeds into the city’s general fund in order to make the budget appear to have a surplus instead of the deficit it was actually running. The deposit into the general fund also cost the city interest earnings on the bond money.

According to sources in Horry County Government, Huffman went to interim administrator Steve Gosnell to say it was best if he (Huffman) resigned. Those sources said Gosnell responded that he would support Huffman if Huffman did not wish to resign.

Such an offer should never have been made by Gosnell. A man acting as the county public safety director had mismanaged funds in Pascagoula, Mississippi in order to deceive the council he worked for.

Is this really the type of person we want being the top public safety official in Horry County? I think not!

The problem goes deeper. According to the government sources, former administrator Chris Eldridge was aware of Huffman’s difficulties in Mississippi as early as last summer. According to sources, Eldridge blamed the entire problem on political differences with a new city administration rather than the actual mismanagement of city money.

Huffman was hired in May 2017, approximately two years after Eldridge received a substantial raise from county council partially on the condition that in addition to being administrator Eldridge would assume the duties of public safety director after the firing of Paul Whitten.

Two years later, Huffman, who reportedly knew Eldridge since they both served in public administration jobs in North Carolina, was hired at a salary of approximately $135,000 annually.

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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.

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Deep Six Secret Attempt to Hijack Administrator Search

May 15, 2019 3:22 AM
Deep Six Secret Attempt to Hijack Administrator Search

Only minutes after the end of the last regular meeting of county council during which plans for a search for a new county administrator were discussed, several council members moved to hijack the search.

According to information received from various council members:

Immediately after the close of the regular meeting: council member Harold Worley approached interim administrator Steve Gosnell about taking the permanent administrator job without going through the search process.

Being a single member of council, Worley had no right to circumvent the search process in this manner, but he did it anyway.

Worley contacted council member Johnny Vaught the following day, explained he had talked to Gosnell, brought Vaught on board with the plot and tasked Vaught to secure sufficient votes from other council members over the next few days.

While Vaught was contacting other council members, council member Gary Loftus contacted the county’s Human Resources Department telling them not to post the job opening for administrator as had been discussed before full council at the meeting. As a single council member, Loftus had no authority to issue such an instruction.

At the regular council meeting, Loftus made a motion to reconsider the vote to accept the separation of former administrator Chris Eldridge to add to it acceptance of Gosnell as interim county administrator. Loftus said this motion was made, “So we make sure that we follow proper legal procedure.”

After the motion to reconsider was approved, Loftus offered an amendment to appoint Gosnell as interim administrator “under short term contract to be entered into by the chairman on behalf of county council,” The amendment passed and the main motion accepting Eldridge’s separation and appointing Gosnell to interim administrator under short term contract passed.

On the dais in front of the public, proper procedure was the rule of the hour. However, proper procedure was ignored immediately after the meeting and in the next several days as this behind the scenes plot unfolded. And nobody bothered to contact the chairman until the plot was in motion and Vaught called Gardner to ask for his support.

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