Author: Paul Gable

DiSabato Motion Ends County Council Meeting Prior to Discussion of Legal Fees

Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato moved to adjourn council’s regular meeting last night before a discussion of county legal fees by council could take place. Council agenda listed the request for the discussion was initiated by council member Al Allen.
There is no question that a discussion of how much and to who the county pays fees for outside attorney assistance is public information. In a lawsuit two years ago, the county agreed that disclosure of legal fees ”is not legally privileged, is not exempt from disclosure under FOIA, and that it is important to the public interest that this information be available to the citizens and taxpayers of Horry County.”
Council voted 8-4 to adjourn the meeting with chairman Johnny Gardner and council members Allen, Harold Worley and Tyler Servant voting No.
Prematurely ending the meeting was the only parliamentary maneuver available to keep discussion of county legal fees from taking place in the meeting. Coming as it did immediately prior to the scheduled discussion makes it appear that DiSabato’s erratic behavior in bringing the motion was prompted by an ulterior motive for not wanting the discussion to take place publicly from the council dais.
This is not the first time DiSabato has exhibited erratic behavior with respect to issues associated with the county legal department.
In December 2018, county attorney Arrigo Carotti authored a five-page memorandum attempting to allege that then council chairmen elect Johnny Gardner had acted in an unethical manner with respect to a discussion held with the executive director of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.
The memo was quickly leaked to a Columbia media outlet who reported the allegations.
The memorandum was sent to SLED by then county administrator Chris Eldridge. SLED conducted an investigation into the allegations which completely exonerated Gardner from any wrongdoing.
While the investigation was underway, Carotti sent an email to SLED which appeared to be an attempt to influence how the investigation was being conducted.

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Proposed Land Sale by SWA to County Government Raises Many Questions

The Horry County Solid Waste Authority is proposing to sell a piece of property to Horry County Government while keeping the transaction as quiet as it is questionable.
The SWA board voted at its meeting last week to send a proposal for sale of the property to Horry County Council even though such action was not included on the board meeting agenda. It is not legal to vote on any item not included on the agenda and publicly advertised in advance of the meeting.
Horry County Council agenda for May 4, 2021 keeps the issue under the radar by listing an executive session to discuss the proposed sale or purchase of property but nothing to indicate the proposed seller is the SWA and the proposed buyer the county.
Why all the secrecy?
The SWA is a component unit of Horry County Government established by county ordinance. Its budget is included in the annual budget for the county and receives final approval from county council. The SWA bylaws and other rules must be approved by county council. SWA board members must be approved by county council. The SWA has never filed a Form 990 with the IRS, which it would be required to do if it were indeed a private, non-profit corporation.
Because of some vague wording in the county ordinance that established the agency as an authority, SWA executives and board members have tried, through the years, to claim the SWA is an independent, private non-profit corporation. It is not.
County council can dissolve the SWA any time a majority of council votes to approve an ordinance to do so.
Therefore, this is not some private entity offering to sell land to the county. It is a component unit of county government trying to gain some revenue from the county general fund to help with its expenses on Hwy 90.
When the SWA was established, council agreed to deed the approximately 700 acres that constituted the land which the county had utilized “for the specific purpose of solid waste collection, disposal and management.” This was done in order to give county council a degree of separation from landfill day-to-day operations.
Included in county Ordinance 60-90, which established the SWA, is the direction from council to the SWA to, “Reimburse the County for expenditures made in connection with the establishment of the Authority and the creation of the Solid Waste Disposal and Resource Recovery/Recycling System.”

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Rice, Fry and Crawford’s Interstate 73 on Life Support

Since the City of Myrtle Beach killed a funding source for Interstate 73 with the hospitality fee lawsuit against Horry County, the cabal that stands to benefit from construction of the road has been attempting to keep the project alive.
In the last two years of his tenure as county chairman, Mark Lazarus led council to remove the sunset provision in the county’s hospitality fee ordinance. Then, Lazarus convinced council to approve a financial participation agreement with the S. C. Department of Transportation to provide dedicated funding for the interstate project.
Lazarus’ entire scheme to provide county funding for construction of I-73 blew up with the hospitality fee lawsuit and recent settlement.
Congressman Tom Rice, and state Reps. Heather Crawford and Russell Fry and former Rep. Alan Clemmons didn’t even get as far as Lazarus in securing funding for construction of Interstate 73 despite constantly proclaiming the project a major priority.
The most successful representative in obtaining funds for I-73 was former SC 1st Congressional District Rep. Henry Brown in the days when Horry County was part of that district. During his 10 years in Washington, Brown managed to secure approximately $83 million total for the road. Brown served in Congress from Jan. 2001 to Jan. 2011.
According to sources familiar with the project, SCDOT is currently spending the last of the Brown secured funding to purchase rights of way in the Mullins area.
Rice has demonstrated no ability to secure federal funding to move the I-73 project forward. Neither have Fry, Crawford and previously Clemmons at the state level.
Grand Strand Daily has learned that a recent private meeting was held after Gov. Henry McMaster made an address to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. The meeting included McMaster, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley and Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato. The meeting reportedly discussed providing some state funding, with local matching funds, to keep the project alive.
It is interesting that McMaster chose to meet with Bethune and Hatley, the two mayors who played the largest part in eliminating I-73 funding from hospitality fee revenue, as well as DiSabato who will struggle to get seven votes among council members for the proposal. One wonders, where was Horry County Council member Johnny Vaught when this meeting occurred. Vaught was attached at the hip to Lazarus with attempting to provide dedicated annual funding for I-73 from hospitality fee revenue.
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Old Guard Out at HCGOP

A new day dawned Saturday for the Horry County Republican Party when the ‘Old Guard’, ‘establishment’ or whatever you want to call it was swept out of power at the party’s biennial convention.
The three top offices in the HCGOP were won by relative newcomers to the local party – Roger Slagle-Chairman, Jeremy Halpin-Vice Chairman and Tracy Beanz Diaz-State Executive Committee member (pictured above).
The feeling that change was needed in the local party has been building for a while, but accelerated over the last month. Two years ago, there were approximately 206 voting delegates at the convention. This year that number increased to approximately 370.
The increased surge in participation can be at least partially linked to two events this week at which approximately 400 people attended each time. Both events were hosted by local Republican Patriot activist Chad Caton. Caton has battled with members of the ‘Old Guard’ for the past two years about how the local party was being run.
Wednesday night saw an event in Aynor to introduce Tracy Beanz Diaz to delegates and the general public. The highlight of the night for many of the attendees was a speech given by former President Donald Trump’s first National Security Adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, in support of his friend Diaz. Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones also spoke in support of Diaz’ candidacy and additionally worked hard at helping to organize the event.
Friday night saw an event in Myrtle Beach where Slagle, Halpin and Diaz all spoke to the crowd about their vision for a new Republican Party in Horry County. The main speaker, however, was Lin Wood, attorney for President Trump and a candidate for the South Carolina Republican Party Chairman post at next month’s state party convention. Wood also mingled with the crowd at the Aynor event talking and taking photos with the attendees.
Change is building in the state. Many people who have become active Republicans in the last five years are disgusted with the ‘good ole boy’ system that has run Republican Party politics in the state since the party became a majority among South Carolina voters.
State party Chairman Drew McKissick is running for reelection to his post. However, if Horry County and other recent county conventions are any indicator, Lin Wood could well oust McKissick from office.
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Internal Rift Hangs Over Horry County Republican Party Convention

The Horry County Republican Party will hold its biennial convention Saturday with an internal rift hanging over the county party.
The rift comes from a question of do county party leaders have to obey the rules (bylaws) of the organization they lead? If so, why have a small group of party insiders ignored these rules at least over the past four years and gotten away with it?
Two years ago, the election for party chair finished in a dead heat after some initial confusion over missing ballots and two counts. Despite rules stating county chairmen are elected by a “simple majority” a compromise, encouraged by state party officials Drew McKissick and Hope Walker, was reached to have co-chairmen in Horry County.
Party officials have been questioned about supporting one candidate over another in a contested Republican primary even though the bylaws specifically prohibit such actions.
Party member Karon Mitchell specifically called for the dismissal of county Vice Chair Mary Rebolini due to Rebolini’s support of Sen. Luke Rankin over Republican challenger John Gallman in last year’s Republican primary runoff.
“On June 19, 2020, Ms. Rebolini endorsed Lune Rankin and defamed John Gallman at a press conference organized by the Rankin campaign,” Mitchell stated in a letter to the HCGOP. Nevertheless, Ms. Rebolini remains in her party position.
The county party’s bylaws read in part, “Elected and appointed officials of the Horry County Republican party shall not endorse, work for, assist, or allow their name to be used in support of a Republican candidate who has opposition from another Republican candidate during a Primary or Run-off election …Failure to comply with these requirements shall constitute prima facie evidence for their dismissal as an elected or appointed official of the Horry County Republican Party”.
Rebolini should have been dismissed immediately from her vice-chair position after appearance at the campaign event, but nothing happened.
Co-chair Dreama Perdue has also come under fire for endorsing one Republican over another to the point of being a member of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Leadership Team although Graham was opposed by several other Republicans in the primary.
Over the past four years, party finances have been conducted with little regard for bylaws that state all checks must have two signatures and expenses of over $1,000 must be approved by the party ways and means committee.

SWA Officials Voice Paranoid Reaction to Water Testing Around Landfill

Horry County Solid Waste Authority (SWA) officials evidenced a paranoid reaction to local media last week when commenting on water samples taken near the landfill for contamination testing.

SWA Executive Director Danny Knight and landfill operations head Mike Bessant both called the desire of the county Infrastructure and Regulation Committee to test the water as politically motivated.

Bessant was quoted in local media as saying those raising concerns about water quality want to “discredit the authority and try to make them look bad” and “everybody’s always after us to try to get us down.”

Knight was quoted as saying private haulers have tried to take some of the business in the county and some council members “get on the soapbox and scream.”

County council member Johnny Vaught, never one to miss a chance to be quoted in local media, was credited as saying there is a faction in Horry County that wants to dissolve the SWA.

This effort to redirect the conversation from potential water contamination near the landfill to political tactics to discredit the authority was immediately repeated by a local reporter who appears to have very little knowledge of the history of the SWA.

The SWA was created 30 years ago by county council under county Ordinance 60-90.

The first paragraph of that ordinance reads, “There is a need in Horry County to develop an acceptable alternative method of solid waste disposal and to reduce the tonnage of solid waste disposal in sanitary landfills due to the County’s high water table and other geologic characteristics that make utilization and expansion of the existing landfill and development of new landfills especially expensive and difficult.”

That is a formal way of saying dumping garbage in and around a swamp is not good public policy. Develop alternative methods for disposing of the county’s garbage.

When the authority was created, the general consensus on county council was the existing landfill had approximately seven years left until it was full. By the time that landfill was closed, the SWA would have developed plans to oversee safe and effective ways to transfer and dispose of the garbage elsewhere, presumably in landfills in other parts of the state.

Rice’s Vote to Impeach Trump Continues to be an Issue with Voters

Rep. Tom Rice’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump remains at the forefront of many voters’ minds.

The issue surfaced again in Surfside Beach this week when a Tom Rice campaign sign was seen hanging from a tree with the word “traitor” written across it.

The sign caused discussions of the issue up to the city council level about whether it was legal for the sign to be in the yard. However, that is not the real issue.

Homeowners certainly have the right to express their feelings about political officeholders in their own yards.

Rice’s vote upset many of the Republicans in his district who have loyally voted for Rice in the past.

This reporter has personally seen several Rice campaign signs with a black “X” painted over them at different locations throughout the county.

The issue is Rice’s vote to impeach is still in the forefront of voters’ minds.

Walter Whetsell, the veteran political consultant who has run Rice’s congressional campaigns said, back in January, that thoughts of Rice’s vote would soon go away. Whetsell misread this issue because it is not going away.

Whenever Rice posts something to his Facebook page, the comments are approximately 80 percent negative towards him. When the commenters are analyzed, it appears that approximately half of the 20 percent who support Rice are Democrats.

Rice said several times that he voted his conscience back in January when he cast a vote to impeach Trump. He properly commented on the Surfside Beach sign that this is a free country and people have a right to express their opinion.

But, those opinions are hard against Rice now and it’s going to be very difficult for him to turn a majority of Republican primary voters around in the next year. It will be interesting to see the reception he receives, if he decides to run for his Congressional seat again, when he meets with voters in live campaign events.

It is also interesting that the same yard where the Rice sign was hung from a tree had a Russell Fry sign for the S. C. House.

Fry has been mentioned as a possible opponent to Rice in next year’s Republican primary for the nomination for the S.C. 7th Congressional District.

According to local media, Fry had no comment about the sign issue. To date, Fry has voiced no support for Trump on the impeachment issue nor support for Rice’s vote.

If he wants to be considered a serious candidate for the Republican nomination for Congress, Fry is going to have to get off the fence and take one side or the other of the impeachment issue. What he has done in the S. C. House of Representatives is not going to matter to voters.

New Airport Master Plan Process Highlights County Staff Bungling

Current concepts for a new airport master plan for Myrtle Beach International Airport are in direct violation of an existing agreement between City of Myrtle Beach and Horry County governments demonstrating what must be considered incompetence by Horry County Government senior staff.

Approximately three weeks ago, Horry County Department of Airports officials appeared before the City of Myrtle Beach Planning Commission to share concepts to be included in a new Airport Master Plan the county will submit to the Federal Aviation Administration within the next year.

Prior to the appearance before the city, the airport plan was the subject of a virtual public meeting held by airport officials, a required step in the planning process.

The general overview being presented is that in the next 20 years, the required planning span for the FAA, Myrtle Beach International Airport will require more terminal and concourse space, approximately 28 passenger gates and expanded parking. For at least the past two years, airport officials have also discussed converting at least part of one of the current taxiways into a second runway for general aviation use only.

What hasn’t been discussed to date by airport officials or other county officials is the fact that this planning is in direct violation of a 2004 Planned Unit Development zoning district for the airport approved by city and county officials.

The 2004 Myrtle Beach International Airport PUD specifically limits growth of airport facilities to a maximum of 18 fixed passenger gates and one runway.

These restrictions are not only ignored in the new master plan, they appear to be unknown to many of the officials involved in the planning process.

Additionally, while airport officials felt the need to advise the city planning commission of concepts for the new master plan, this same information has yet to be presented to Horry County Council members.

New Moves in the Filing Controversy

Election Season Opens Early in Horry County

The next 14 months are going to provide interesting political times in Horry County. During that period, the cities will hold elections this coming fall and county and state primaries will be contested in June 2022.

Electioneering has already begun.

Horry County School Board Chairman Ken Richardson is already making a strong bid to replace Tom Rice as the South Carolina District 7 representative to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Two people have been spreading the word around the county that they intend to challenge Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner in the June 2022 primary.

Mark Lazarus, who Gardner unseated in 2018 with what is probably the biggest upset in Horry County political history, reportedly is telling supporters he wants a rematch with Gardner in the 2022 Republican Primary.

Johnny Vaught, the current County Council District 8 council member, and Dennis DiSabato, the current county council member for District 3, have also been broadcasting they will be candidates for the Republican nomination for county chairman in the 2022 primary.

What is interesting about these announcements is Vaught was a major spokesman for Lazarus’ reelection. Whenever Lazarus needed a surrogate to speak for him at a meeting or other campaign event in 2018, Vaught was the chosen spokesman.

If Vaught and Lazarus both contest the chairman primary, it will bring up another interesting dynamic. Both have used Crescent Communications, the political consulting firm of state Reps. Russell Fry and Heather Crawford and county council member Cam Crawford in past campaigns.

Gallman Lawsuit Versus Rankin Raises Questions about What is Protected Political Speech

The lawsuit filed recently by Republican candidate John Gallman against his opponent Luke Rankin and a host of others who supported Rankin’s reelection raises important questions about protected political speech and other activities during a campaign.

The lawsuit alleges libel/slander, invasion of privacy (private medical records) and conspiracy among the various groups of defendants to destroy Gallman’s reputation.

Political speech has always been given the broadest of interpretations by the courts under First Amendment protections. However, making a statement you know to be false but publishing or broadcasting it anyway is termed “reckless disregard for the truth”, which the lawsuit alleges.

Gallman, Rankin and Carter Smith were the three candidates vying for the Republican nomination for S.C. Senate District 33 in the June 9, 2020 primary election. Gallman and Rankin faced off in a primary runoff to determine the nomination on June 23, 2020.

According to the lawsuit complaint, a 531-page dossier on Gallman was compiled containing documents from Gallman’s divorce proceedings and notes from a forensic interview conducted by the Children’s Recovery Center in Horry County. The complaint alleges the dossier was compiled by the Rankin campaign and distributed to media organizations throughout the state on June 2, 2020.

The forensic interview was conducted with Gallman’s 10-year-old daughter. The records of the interview are statutorily protected and confidential pursuant to S.C. Code § 19-11-95, S.C. Code § 44-22-100, and S.C. Code § 62-11-310.