By Paul Gable
Horry County Council voted 6-6 on the question of whether to fire administrator Chris Eldridge during its special meeting on the question Tuesday afternoon.
Eldridge survived, but barely and it is obvious he does not have the support of a majority of council going forward. Even the six who voted no on the question of firing Eldridge did not appear to be acting out of a conviction that he needed to stay.
The opposition was led by council member Dennis DiSabato who has said he will never support anything by that SOB Gardner. DiSabato spent most of his time attacking Gardner including accusing him of being involved in a ‘pay to play scheme’ even though SLED and the Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor have already said nothing violating the law happened.
Council members Bill Howard, Cam Crawford and Tyler Servant said nothing in support of Eldridge. That’s four out of six who were basically mute on Eldridge while council members Harold Worley and Gary Loftus gave lukewarm support to Eldridge.
What was apparent from comments and questions from council during the two hour meeting was that six members of council firmly believe Eldridge acted unprofessionally and inappropriately in calling for a SLED investigation on new Chairman Johnny Gardner.
The SLED findings and conclusion of Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson were that nothing inappropriate happened when Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot met with EDC executives Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele.
Davis and Steele both told SLED the very same thing when they were interviewed during the investigation process.
Council member Danny Hardee said it best when he told Eldridge he (Eldridge) was the only one who thought ‘he heard something’ in the recording of the conversation.
As the record shows, Eldridge already had his mind made up as to his own set of facts when he sent an email to EDC board chairman Neyle Wilson on December 12, 2018 even though Eldridge did not listen to the recording until December 19, 2019.
Throughout questioning by the council members, Eldridge maintained that he did the right thing by requesting a SLED investigation. And he was quite arrogant in maintaining he acted properly.
Like beauty, what is correct action in this issue is in the eye of the beholder and Eldridge’s eyes have tunnel vision – He’s right and everybody who disagrees with him is wrong.
From the beginning, when a memo from attorney Arrigo Carotti was leaked to a Columbia media website within hours of its being released to council members, this affair has had all the appearances of an attempt, and a bad one at that, to undermine Gardner before he even took office.
What was even more interesting was what came out in questioning about who Eldridge consulted with on council before sending a request to SLED.
It was known he talked to former chairman Mark Lazarus and council member Loftus, both of whom were EDC board members and listened to the recording with Eldridge on December 19th.
Eldridge was also chastised for making decisions in concert with former chairman Lazarus and leaving the rest of council outside the decision making process except to vote for whatever Eldridge and/or Lazarus decided.
However, Eldridge said he had also talked to council members Worley and Servant, who are fast becoming the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of this council.
It was Worley and Servant who helped stymie the first attempt at discussing the actions of the administrator.
It was Worley and Servant who tried to subvert a change in council seating assignments by Gardner when he took office, then, quickly backed away when they discovered they did not have the votes to stop the change.
It was Worley and Servant who tried to use the excuse of saving the county money to stop council from holding its budget retreat at Pinopolis, a decision made by the chairman in years past.
While professing ‘full support for the chairman’ or ‘respect of the chairman’ they have acted in ways that have been anything but supportive and generally behind the scenes.
Worley announced to the public if Eldridge did anything to set up the chairman he would lead the charge in firing Eldridge. When push came to shove Tuesday afternoon, Worley voted not to fire Eldridge proving his word means nothing.
In his latest attempt to subvert the chairman, I understand Worley is working behind the scenes to try and find a compromise to ease Eldridge out the door, again without informing the chairman.
Throughout this entire issue, Worley has spoken of doing everything out in the open, but has, in fact, tried to keep his intentions and actions secret.
Worley must also believe the support for Eldridge to keep his job is soft and is hoping to take credit now for a solution. The answer was simple, all Worley had to do was live up to his word at the special meeting.
I have covered county council for many years and have often seen Worley on his soapbox playing to the audience. But, for the first time in memory, Worley was on the wrong side and the crowd wasn’t buying his spiel. Bob Dylan said it best, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”.
The time will come when Eldridge will be gone and I don’t believe it will be too far in the future. Those who voted to keep Eldridge for right now may also be gone at their next election. The public showed which side it was on last night and it wasn’t on the side supporting Eldridge.