By Paul Gable
If perception is reality in politics, Coast RTA funding from Horry County is in deep trouble.
That is the perception I have after watching last night’s Horry County Council meeting.
It centers around one huge public relations gaffe and several shortfalls on the part of Coast RTA.
It’s not a good thing when the chairman of Horry County Council says to Coast RTA representatives “it’s almost as if we don’t exist up here” and “that board (Coast) is not taking this county council seriously.”
The gaffe was a press release sent out by Coast RTA welcoming Brian Piascik to Coast RTA as its next general manager and chief executive officer. The problem is Piascik is only the preferred candidate for the job at this point.
A funding agreement between Horry County and Coast RTA requires the bus agency to get county council approval before hiring a new general manager.
Irrespective of the terms in the funding agreement, the Coast RTA board, being a state created agency, can legally hire a general manager without approval from Horry County Council. But, the problem in that scenario is Horry County Council does not legally have to provide one penny of funding to Coast RTA.
Council currently provides $1.055 million annually to Coast RTA
Coast RTA board chairman Bernie Silverman told council, at the meeting, that Piascik had been offered the job but no contract was in place. Silverman said the contract was still being drawn up by the Coast RTA attorney and would be forwarded to council for approval.
Silverman added that the Coast RTA board had not formally voted to hire Piascik, it had only approved making an offer to him. Silverman said the contract would include wording that it needed approval and funding from Horry County Council for the contract to go into effect if Piascik accepts the offer.
The obvious question is how do you send out a press release announcing a new general manager when you don’t yet have one?
This may not seem like a big deal, and maybe it’s not, but it does draw comparisons to Coast RTA statements in earlier years about having 15 bus shelters in place when actually only one served Coast RTA customers.
You can parse statements only so far before your listeners walk away.
Lack of progress by Coast RTA on a forensic audit and transportation plan also drew criticism from several council members. The lack of progress on those issues was already bothering council members, causing a smoldering problem so to speak, when the press release, sent out approximately 30 minutes before the council meeting started, added gasoline causing a full-fledged conflagration.
The vote on whether to fund Coast RTA or not in next year’s county budget was always going to be a close one.
These latest issues, all of which fall at the feet of Coast RTA, just make the possibility of a positive funding vote more questionable.