By Paul Gable
An eleventh hour discovery that the ordinance amending the vendor and special events permits needed to go to the Planning Commission for a recommendation prior to final consideration from council keeps an issue potentially affecting the May bike rallies undecided.
Third reading of the ordinance was scheduled for county council last night. If the ordinance had been approved in its present form, vendor permits would be allowed for seven days at reduced fees from prior years. Both would be positive results for the bike rallies.
Instead, council chairman Tom Rice announced county attorney Arrigo Carotti had contacted him earlier in the day stating the ordinance must be reviewed and a recommendation received from the Planning Commission prior to final consideration from council.
Carotti took the podium and went through a song and dance with Rice about how this development had been discovered only hours before the council meeting was scheduled to start. Carotti told council that he had been informed by Planning Department Director Janet Carter that the ordinance, if passed, would cause a change to Appendix B of the county’s zoning ordinance, therefore state law and county ordinance both required Planning Commission review.
Therefore, third reading of the ordinance had to be delayed until the next regular meeting of council, April 17th. The regular meeting of the Planning Commission is scheduled for Thursday April 5, 2012 at which the ordinance will be considered and a recommendation made to council.
This would all be very understandable, if regrettable, except for several considerations. The ordinance was always designed to change Appendix B of the county zoning ordinance. This was not a development that happened yesterday. Proper council leadership and/or staff work would have included referral to the Planning Commission over a month ago.
Why did it slip through the cracks until the last minute?
The ordinance was first discussed at the February Committee of the Whole meeting of county council with Rice stating “something” would be on the agenda for first reading at the county’s February 28, 2012 meeting.
Rice led the “Take Back May” movement several years ago, before being elected to county council. The movement effectively cancelled bike rallies in Myrtle Beach.
His intention from the beginning was to develop an ordinance that would further discourage bike rally attendance in the county. Rice has been heard privately to say he would get rid of every biker in Horry County if he could.
First reading of Rice’s ordinance was successfully passed by council at its February 28th regular meeting.
However, Rice’s ordinance ran into considerable opposition on second reading at the March 13, 2012 regular council meeting. This resulted in the ordinance being amended so that the number of days the permits would be issued for remained the same seven days it has been for the past several years with reduced permit fees.
That was the ordinance that would have passed third reading Tuesday night if it wasn’t for the eleventh hour “discovery” that a step in approving the ordinance had been skipped.
A majority of council members told me after Tuesday’s meeting that they had been given no “heads up” prior to the meeting that third reading had to be delayed. Many said they felt “sandbagged” by the development. From what I can determine, only Rice knew of this in advance.
Council has dinner available prior to council meetings. There is not a formal meeting in the “chicken room”, as it is called, but often upcoming agenda items are discussed in passing. I have it on authority that not one word of delaying third reading of the ordinance was mentioned.
The votes were lined up to easily pass third reading of the ordinance, thereby defeating an attempt by Rice to further dampen enthusiasm for and attendance at the May bike rallies.
Now, third reading cannot be considered until council’s April 17th meeting. This brings resolution of the issue to within several weeks of the start of the Harley Davidson Rally. Will such indecision until the last minute have the effect of reducing bike rally attendance?
Was this mishandling of the ordinance process a way for Rice to negatively affect the bike rallies even though his ordinance ultimately goes down to defeat?
Why does the county seem to be indirectly following Myrtle Beach’s lead in discouraging the millions of dollars the bike rallies generate for the local economy?
The atmosphere on the council dais is the most toxic I have seen in many years of covering council meetings. Even in the days when Terry Cooper and Liz Gilland were constantly “spitting at each other”, it was not as bad as it is now. Nobody on council trusts anyone.
This is terrible leadership on Rice’s part and horrible government for the citizens of Horry County and the tourist economy we depend on.