Chamber Response to County Council Rejection of I-73 Funding is Arrogant and Threatening

By Paul Gable

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce issued an arrogant and threatening email response to the rejection by a majority of county council Tuesday night to a resolution funding Interstate 73 from local county tax revenue.

Whether she authored the email personally or it was authored by one of her underlings, Karen Riordan as MBACC President and CEO bears direct responsibility for its contents.

A screenshot of the email appears below

Responding to questions about the email from a local media outlet, Riordan attempted to pass off its contents as showing “appreciation to the Horry County Council members who voted for funding Interstate 73.”

Such a statement would be true if the email was limited to the first and last two sentences in its content.

However, when the statement, “Make no mistake about it, we need local and county support for this Interstate and there will be additional votes at county council,” was included the email crossed the line from congratulations to arrogant threat.

According to comments I’ve received from several of the six county council members who voted against the resolution, the Chamber email was not viewed favorably by any of the six and apparently the email has stiffened their resolve to oppose local funding for Interstate 73. Even more importantly, the six received numerous emails and phone calls from their respective constituents praising the vote and reiterating opposition to using local government dollars to fund I-73.

The entire lobbying effort for local government funding for I-73 by the Chamber was mishandled from its start. I would submit it demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of local citizens’ attitudes and local politics in today’s environment.

For example, four members of county council who voted against the resolution, Harold Worley, Mark Causey, Danny Hardee and Al Allen, were born, raised and make their living in the council districts they represent. They know the desires of their constituents much better than the Chamber group.

Council member Orton Bellamy, a Horry County native, represents a district that derives little to no benefit from Chamber marketing or the proposed I-73 and is a retired Army officer who will not be intimidated by the Chamber lobby.

Council Chairman Johnny Gardner, a Horry County native, was opposed by the Chamber group when he ran for office and wasn’t even invited to attend any of the private meetings hosted by the Chamber in which the need and strategy for obtaining local funding was discussed. Instead council member Dennis DiSabato was included in that group and DiSabato could not convince six members of council to join him in voting for the resolution.

The private group, according to sources, included Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune and North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley Neither of those municipal council’s was willing to consider local funding for I-73 until after next month’s city elections are over. That unwillingness appears to demonstrate lack of support among voters for I-73 in those municipalities.

According to the MBACC calendar year 2020 Form 990 filed with the IRS, Riordan received $309,437 in total compensation. To put this in perspective, it is approximately ten times the average annual salary earned by workers in Horry County and is over six times the average annual household income in the county.

Riordan’s salary is almost twice the annual salary of most US House and Senate members ($174,000) and over $80,000 higher than the highest paid member of Congress, Tom Rice’s friend Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who earns $223,500 per year.

A screenshot of the pertinent section of the Form 990 appears below

The Chamber receives approximately $45 million per year in public tax dollars. This amount comes from a combination of the City of Myrtle Beach Tourism Development Fee, one-third of the accommodations tax revenue collected by the county and city governments, state grants generally from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and other state appropriations by the General Assembly.

The Chamber uses the TDF and accommodations tax monies to pay for out of area marketing, which directs tourists to the website. Businesses (called investors by the Chamber) are charged approximately $22,000 each by the Chamber to advertise on the website. The Chamber reports that revenue as private revenue. In this circular manner, the Chamber leverages the tens of millions of public dollars it receives each year to generate private revenue, which is used to pay the types of salaries shown above.

I would submit the only statement Riordan should ever address to local government officials is “Thank You” for both her generous salary and benefits package as well as the public tax dollars given to the Chamber that generate the revenue to pay for it.

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