Post Tagged with: "Tyler Servant"

Eldridge and His Band of Followers

March 13, 2019 3:52 AM
Eldridge and His Band of Followers

It has been one week since six members of Horry County Council blindly followed the lead of administrator Chris Eldridge with the story pitched by Eldridge about how and why he called for a SLED investigation with false allegations against Chairman Johnny Gardner.

Last week’s farce seemed more like River City than Horry County with Eldridge playing the part of Harold Hill.

But that is exactly what happens when council members are unwilling to ask questions of the administrator about his story or give more than a cursory glance at the SLED report and the tape recording at its center.

Prior to a November 30, 2018 lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Eldridge already had his narrative established of what would be told to SLED 20 days later.

This is obvious from the sworn statements given to SLED investigators by Eldridge and Davis. Almost immediately after the lunch meeting ended, Eldridge peppered Davis with specific questions about Donald Smith, supposed stories that were supposed to be written by me, payments to the Beach Ball Classic and a statement by Eldridge about funneling money to Smith.

Eldridge told SLED Davis was “upset” after the meeting. Davis told SLED the meeting went well and EDC board chairman Neyle Wilson said Davis said the same to him and his interpretation of the meeting was quite the opposite of that of Eldridge.

Nineteen days after the meeting, Eldridge, attorney Arrigo Carotti, council members Mark Lazarus and Gary Loftus, Wilson, Davis, Steele and Fred Richardson of the EDC listened to the portion of the recording of the meeting that was pertinent to Eldridge’s false allegations.

According to Davis and Wilson, Eldridge was the only member of the group that “thought he heard something” on the tape to support his allegations. The others said there was nothing there.

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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.

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SLED Said NO, Eldridge Gotta Go, Worley Nowhere to Go

March 7, 2019 2:01 PM
SLED Said NO, Eldridge Gotta Go, Worley Nowhere to Go

As statements at the special county council meeting of March 5, 2019 bring to light, we have still not heard the truth about why allegations were made against Chairman Johnny Gardner before he took office, about why SLED was called in to investigate the allegations and about who participated in what now appears to be a conspiracy to keep Gardner from ever taking office.

It has always been a mystery of why the Carotti memo was leaked to Fitsnews and who leaked it? The memo relates a version, based on hearsay, about what took place at a meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation during which, Eldridge alleges to this day, possible illegal comments were made.

The only logical explanation of why it was leaked was to get the discussion into the public domain. Once it was in the public domain, especially with it being leaked to a media outlet that borders on the sensational with its stories, there was a virtual guarantee it would be picked up by other media spreading the story.

The story became Gardner’s name linked with the word “extortion” before he ever took office. I believe leaking the memo was intentional and there was a hope that Gardner could be prevented from taking office, thereby overturning the will of the voters.

I have transcribed what I believe are key portions of Tuesday’s special meeting.

The following transcription begins at 1:02:01 of the special meeting of council on March 5, 2019:

Al Allen: Question, you mentioned earlier that some council members knew about this and this tape. I can understand councilman Loftus because he was on the EDC board and I can understand Mark because he was on the EDC board. You mentioned councilman Worley and you mentioned councilman Servant. Now how did they know and the rest of this council didn’t know?

Chris Eldridge: No they didn’t know. It was after the memo from Arrigo Carotti went out that I heard from council members that said ‘that needs to go to SLED.’

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Council Splits Vote Eldridge Survives for Now

March 6, 2019 6:36 PM
Council Splits Vote Eldridge Survives for Now

Horry County Council voted 6-6 on the question of whether to fire administrator Chris Eldridge during its special meeting on the question Tuesday afternoon.

Eldridge survived, but barely and it is obvious he does not have the support of a majority of council going forward. Even the six who voted no on the question of firing Eldridge did not appear to be acting out of a conviction that he needed to stay.

The opposition was led by council member Dennis DiSabato who has said he will never support anything by that SOB Gardner. DiSabato spent most of his time attacking Gardner including accusing him of being involved in a ‘pay to play scheme’ even though SLED and the Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor have already said nothing violating the law happened.

Council members Bill Howard, Cam Crawford and Tyler Servant said nothing in support of Eldridge. That’s four out of six who were basically mute on Eldridge while council members Harold Worley and Gary Loftus gave lukewarm support to Eldridge.

What was apparent from comments and questions from council during the two hour meeting was that six members of council firmly believe Eldridge acted unprofessionally and inappropriately in calling for a SLED investigation on new Chairman Johnny Gardner.

The SLED findings and conclusion of Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson were that nothing inappropriate happened when Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot met with EDC executives Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele.

Davis and Steele both told SLED the very same thing when they were interviewed during the investigation process.

Council member Danny Hardee said it best when he told Eldridge he (Eldridge) was the only one who thought ‘he heard something’ in the recording of the conversation.

As the record shows, Eldridge already had his mind made up as to his own set of facts when he sent an email to EDC board chairman Neyle Wilson on December 12, 2018 even though Eldridge did not listen to the recording until December 19, 2019.

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Council Votes to Pay Magistrates Retroactive Raise

February 20, 2019 9:06 AM
Council Votes to Pay Magistrates Retroactive Raise

Horry County Council voted to pay the county magistrates retroactive to FY 2017 for a pay raise that was voted by council but never instituted.

Council voted a three percent pay raise for all county employees beginning FY 2017. The magistrates also received a 3.5% pay raise from the state budget beginning that year.

Despite being included in the county budget to exclude the county three percent raise for the magistrates.

Council member Al Allen questioned how the county got to the point where the magistrates had to threaten to sue the county in order to receive a pay raise approved by county council.

“The public needs to understand how we got here,” Allen said. “Who made that choice?”

Despite the presence of all senior staff at the meeting, not one had the integrity to step up and say they made the decision.

According to several sources inside county government, administrator Chris Eldridge made the decision to exclude the magistrates from the council approved budget pay raise.

Allen made the point that eliminating the magistrates from the pay raise amounted to an amendment to the county budget not approved by council. It takes a three reading budget amendment ordinance passed by an absolute super majority of council (9 yes votes) to amend the budget once it is approved.

Apparently Eldridge believes he can do it by executive fiat.

The magistrates item was not the only pay issue discussed by council.

At the regular meeting two weeks ago, council members Dennis DiSabato and Cam Crawford requested staff to prepare a study to compare the cost of the current merit raise pay policy of the county to a more standard pay scale for public safety employees, such as the one used in other counties throughout the state and in the military.

Instead, assistant administrator Justin Powell and Eldridge briefed council on a study commissioned to compare Horry County employee compensation with 15 similar counties in the region.

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A New Emphasis on Public Safety in Horry County?

February 7, 2019 4:43 AM
A New Emphasis on Public Safety in Horry County?

Throughout his campaign for election last year, Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner pledged “Public Safety Priority One, Day One.”

By the time Gardner decided to run for chairman last March, county employees in general and public safety personnel in particular were suffering under low pay and demanding working conditions due to understaffing.

These conditions had been allowed to go on under the administration of former chairman Mark Lazarus and county administrator Chris Eldridge. The cry was always that there wasn’t enough money to hire more people or give current employees much in the way of raises.

Recognizing the particular frustrations of public safety employees, the first responders that are most needed when problems arise, Gardner coined his campaign phrase, not as something to say to get elected, but rather as something to do after he was elected.

Now, less than two months into his term of office, it appears that a majority of council members have bought into that philosophy.

Council members Harold Worley and Al Allen,  two of the more senior members of council, have long advocated for better pay and increased staffing for public safety, but they operated as voices in the wilderness as Lazarus, Eldridge and other senior county staff consistently cried ‘no money, no money.’

Current Public Safety Committee Chairman Danny Hardee joined the ‘wilderness chorus’ when he was elected to council two years ago, but it was still only three council members with the remaining nine basically buying into staff propaganda.

However, the situation appeared to change at the regular meeting of council earlier this week when council members Cam Crawford, Dennis DiSabato, Tyler Servant and newly elected Orton Bellamy voiced support for a new study on pay and staffing for public safety personnel.

These are heartening additions as there now is a possibility of at least eight votes supporting proper pay and staffing for public safety.

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Insurrection Fizzles, Council Meeting Quiet

January 11, 2019 4:39 PM
Insurrection Fizzles, Council Meeting Quiet

The threatened insurrection over county council seating, assigned by Chairman Johnny Gardner, fizzled out yesterday when the Gang of Five began falling apart.

According to council sources, one of the first to fall was council member Tyler Servant. Those sources said it was his opposition to a change in dais seating that spurred council member Harold Worley to take up the cause. It seems Servant liked his former seat which put his face on television more than just when he was speaking.

However, by last night Servant was saying in social media he would sit on the floor if asked. More savvy than most of his colleagues about social media, it didn’t take Servant long to discover how childish the public was interpreting complaining about where you sat during meetings.

Worley also backpedaled in traditional media saying he would sit wherever the chairman told him to. That was not the case the day before when Worley was emailing the council clerk and county attorney about having a motion to try and stop the seating change.

One other small bit of friction was the statement by Dennis DiSabato complaining about the chairman’s committee assignments when he didn’t get chairmanship of a committee that he expected. But, council rules place the responsibility of making committee assignments solely to the chairman and any previous discussions are just that, discussions. The chairman has the absolute right to finalize committee and chairmanship assignments as he sees fit for what he determines best suits the county.

A hats off to Gardner for handling both controversies with calm and dignity, not feeling the need to respond publicly to these challenges to his authority. One must remember, he sits on a dais with 10 members of council who supported his opponent and some, obviously, still have to get over the fact that Gardner won.

Public input on several second readings of ordinances demonstrated the public’s view of council responsibilities.

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Worley Attempting to Lead Insurrection Against Chairman Gardner -UPDATED

January 9, 2019 8:16 PM
Worley Attempting to Lead Insurrection Against Chairman Gardner -UPDATED

Based on his actions over the past six days, it appears Horry County Council member Harold Worley is attempting to lead an insurrection against new council chairman Johnny Gardner.

It began last Friday when Worley appeared determined to avoid having council discuss recent actions by County Administrator Chris Eldridge designed to smear Gardner before he had even assumed office.

This included an interpretation by County Attorney Arrigo Carotti of state law regarding requirements for removing the administrator that three attorneys I have consulted say was a complete misinterpretation of the law.

According to an email chain provided to GSD, Worley has succeeded in enlisting four additional council members, Tyler Servant, Cam Crawford, Bill Howard and Gary Loftus into what I will call the Gang of Five in a new attempt aimed at embarrassing and marginalizing the new chairman.

Those same four supported Worley’s antics last Friday to suppress discussion of the administrator’s actions in embarrassing the county.

This new attempt regards a change in seating arrangement on the council dais that Gardner has called for. The arrangement is numerical which Gardner believes will make it easier for meeting attendees and home viewers to identify their particular district member.

On the surface, this looks like a completely ridiculous division to have.

With the real problems in the county, public safety shortages, infrastructure, storm water and so on, the most pressing issue to five council members is where they sit on the dais?

But is it really about where members sit?

I have been told by business people in the county since last Friday that the Dunes Club Crowd is not happy with Gardner in the chairman’s seat. Worley has long positioned himself as a champion of the people against that crowd, but I wonder.

What is most interesting here is the Gang of Five all represent council districts totally or substantially east of the waterway and all five live east of the waterway.

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Horry County’s Political Schism

July 22, 2018 9:22 AM
Horry County’s Political Schism

One glance at the agenda for Tuesday’s upcoming special meeting and workshop of Horry County Council demonstrates the political schism that exists in local politics.

Council will consider two resolutions that propose advisory referendums on the upcoming November 2018 general election ballot to raise countywide property taxes by 10 mils to fund police, EMS, Sheriff and E911service improvements throughout the county and one to raise property taxes by an additional 9.5 mils in the unincorporated areas of the county to fund fire improvements.

The entire discussion of these two referendums is nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to the defeat of incumbent council chairman Mark Lazarus by Johnny Gardner in the June 2018 Republican Primary for the nomination for council chairman.

One of the reasons Gardner won the nomination was his motto of “First Responders First” and his promise to take care of the additional needs of public safety departments in upcoming county budgets. It must be noted, Gardner never proposed tax increases to fund additional personnel and pay raises for first responders. Rather, he proposed prioritizing the needs of public safety during the budget process with current revenues and funds.

Over the last five years, Lazarus and council have basically ignored the increasing needs of public safety. After the voters made themselves heard by voting Lazarus out in June, it is all of a sudden a council priority necessitating a special meeting.

Being advisory rather than binding referendums, the results will mean nothing. The resolutions were first proposed by council member Tyler Servant at the June 19, 2018 regular meeting of council.

Servant said he was a strong fiscal conservative Republican who opposed tax increases, but proposed allowing the voters to make the decision. A true, fiscal conservative would first look to current revenues and funds to meet these needs and consider tax increases only after every other option has been considered and discarded.

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County Council’s Phony Tax Referendum

July 10, 2018 1:32 PM
County Council’s Phony Tax Referendum

Horry County Council is expected to have a discussion next week about placing an advisory referendum on the November 2018 general election ballot regarding tax increases for public safety.

The issue was proposed by council member Tyler Servant at last month’s council meeting. Acknowledging the main topic of the primary election which cost council chairman Mark Lazarus nomination to another term in office, Servant said he was opposed to raising taxes but believed the voters should have a say on whether they wanted to pay higher taxes to increase public safety services in the county.

Council members Dennis DiSabato and Cam Crawford jumped on the bandwagon, acknowledging a need for more public safety personnel and facilities in the county but saying the voters should make the decision.

The discussion will be a waste of time as an advisory referendum will not solve the problem of funding for public safety needs. Regardless of how the referendum is worded and what percentage of the vote it may receive, an advisory binds the council to no action and, furthermore, does not provide permission from voters to raise taxes above the limits of Act 388.

The proposal for a discussion and resolution vote to place the advisory referendum on the ballot appears to be an attempt to divert the discussion from various alternatives for public safety funding to a possible tax increase.

Republican chairman nominee Johnny Gardner, who defeated Lazarus in the June primary voting, never mentioned raising taxes while he campaigned on increasing public safety personnel numbers and pay throughout the county.

Gardner said the current 20 ½ minutes average elapsed time it takes from when a 911 call is answered until a first responder arrives on the scene is unacceptable. Gardner pledged to make public safety funding priority one in the budget process.

At times, when extra sources of tax dollars become available, public safety staffing is never on the radar of most council members and county staff.

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