By Paul Gable
The direction county council will take over the next several years will likely be determined by three contested races in the Republican Primary to be held on June 9, 2020.
Those three races are Horry County Districts 3, 4 and 6, currently held by incumbents Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus and Cam Crawford, respectively. Those three council members have consistently been stooges for the special interests in the county.
DiSabato, Loftus and Crawford were consistent “yes” votes for any initiative former council chairman Mark Lazarus brought to the table. The purchase of approximately 3,700 acres of wetlands off of International for $12 million of taxpayer money is one example that quickly comes to mind.
The parcel purchased by the county was part of a larger parcel purchased by a developer in Virginia years ago. The wetlands couldn’t be developed so the county purchased the land with the purported goal of establishing a wetland mitigation bank to be used when capital projects required mitigation credits for disturbing wetlands. No other parcel in the county was considered, no record of a request for proposals was sent out by the county.
The three stooges voted in lockstep to spend county money for land that was basically useless to the developer for the price of approximately $3,243 per acre.
After Lazarus was defeated for reelection, DiSabato, Crawford and Loftus were charter members for what I dubbed the Deep Six, council members who fought long and hard to keep former county administrator Chris Eldridge in office after Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti lodged groundless accusations of extortion against current chairman Johnny Gardner, who defeated Lazarus, Eldridge’s strongest supporter on council.
Anyone who watched the March 2019 special council meeting, called to remove Eldridge, will recall DiSabato launching into accusations against Gardner after an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) concluded the accusations were without any merit.
The three stooges voted not to fire Eldridge in March, ultimately costing the taxpayers of Horry County $350,000 when council voted to buy out Eldridge’s contract in April 2019 rather than firing him one month before.
DiSabato, Crawford and Loftus have been consistent supporters of having county taxpayers fund construction of Interstate 73. Constructing I-73 remains a major goal of special interests in the county who will benefit financially from construction of the road.
The picture accompanying this story was taken in Columbia while the three were attending a hearing called by Rep. Alan Clemmons for a bill at the state level that dictates all hospitality fees collected by the county must be spent for construction of I-73. It’s apparently of no consequence to DiSabato, Crawford, Loftus or Clemmons that the revenues from hospitality fees would be better spent fixing and upgrading existing tourist corridors in the county and on emergency services in areas served by those corridors.
One final area to address is the sympathy these three extend to any initiative proposed by developers. When the development industry formed and funded what is now called the Institute for Principled Development in coordination with Coastal Carolina University, Loftus was named a member of the Board of Advisors for this fledgling institute. Lazarus is listed as chairman of the Board of Advisors.
DiSabato and Crawford attempted to direct county tax dollars to a study by this institute of the county’s comprehensive plan. Internal emails obtained by Grand Strand Daily show members of this institute calling for study results by the institute to support whatever the developers want.
Basically the races for county council in the 2020 election cycle will be a continuation of the main issues of 2018.
Will county council represent the special interests in the county or will it represent the needs of the citizens?
Will development continue to be allowed in wetlands, supported by a purported university institute and aggravating an already serious flooding problem in the county or will council insist on responsible development and work to mitigate flooding?
Will council support grandiose boondoggles like I-73 or will it fix, maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure that needs attention?
Many of those questions will be decided by the vote in the June 9th Republican Primary.