By Paul Gable
Using a parliamentary ruse that was erroneous, a majority of Horry County Council voted to have no discussion before extending, for 60 more days, the emergency ordinance controlling countywide requirements and restrictions with respect to the ongoing Covid 19 situation.
Council member Al Allen requested the item calling for an extension of the emergency ordinance be moved from the consent agenda, where there is no discussion on any item before a vote, to a discussion item, where discussion of the extension would have occurred before a vote.
Immediately upon Allen making the request the ruse began. Council member Dennis DiSabato called a point of order stating that changing the agenda in such a matter requires a two-thirds majority vote of council.
County attorney Arrigo Carotti, who also acts as council’s parliamentarian, confirmed to council that this was a requirement.
Subsequent to Carotti’s input, a vote was held in which a motion to move the item to discussion failed by a 5-7 vote with the Deep Six (DiSabato, Harold Worley, Bill Howard, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus and Tyler Servant) plus Orton Bellamy voting no.
The entire episode appeared to be orchestrated. I don’t believe DiSabato is sharp enough to come up with the objection he raised on his own and Carotti was too quickly on his feet to support DiSabato’s objection.
Orchestrated or not, voting on any council member’s request to move an item from the consent agenda to the regular, or discussion, agenda is counter to over 20 years of precedent on the council dais.
I have covered many county council meetings in the last two decades since the use of a consent agenda came into being under Chad Prosser’s term as chairman. Prosser initiated the consent agenda to accommodate the many rezoning requests of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s by not having each read and considered separately when the reading did not require public review.
Numerous times over that span, a council member has requested an item be moved from consent agenda to a discussion item. The move was always made by the chairman without a vote. I cannot recall one instance in which the change was even questioned.
Carotti has been the council’s parliamentarian since taking over as county attorney approximately 10 years ago. During this tenure, Carotti has been witness to a number of these requests by individual council members to remove an item from the consent agenda to discussion without saying a word.
In simple terms, Carotti was wrong. The agenda was not being changed, something that would require a super majority vote. An item was merely being moved in the order that it would be considered. No items were removed or added to the agenda.
I spoke with two experts on Robert’s Rules of Order, men who have forgotten more about parliamentary procedure than Carotti ever knew. Both said the advice given by Carotti as parliamentarian was wrong – there was no change in the agenda and no vote required. Both pointed out the exact opposite precedent set over a number of years by county council.
Any input from the parliamentarian is advice on his opinion of what proper procedure is. The parliamentarian does not make rulings, merely gives advice to the chair.
In this case, council Chairman Johnny Gardner should have ignored Carotti’s advice and moved the item to discussion.
Since Gardner took office, the Deep Six have tried to derail public discussions. They like operating in the back room. They do not like debate or having to justify their positions or votes to the people.
One only has to consider the Deep Six tried everything in back room wheeling and dealing to avoid a vote on removing Chris Eldridge as County Administrator after Eldridge and Carotti failed in their attempt to use a fictional story created by Carotti in an attempt to smear Gardner on the day Gardner was sworn into office.
The Deep Six like to operate in this fashion – keep as much discussion out of the public eye as possible. Backroom whisperings and deals are the preferred method.
Several local media outlets made this seem to be a requested discussion about mandatory mask requirements. However, it goes much further than masks.
Operating the county under an emergency ordinance transfers much of the decision making from council to county staff. For example, the administrator could invoke a countywide curfew if he chose without needing a vote from council. Public input is restricted during council meetings so council avoids hearing from the public unless the input is directly related to the reading of an ordinance where provision for public input is required by law.
Provisions allowing an emergency ordinance were made for such things as natural disaster (hurricanes, fires) and civil unrest (riots) or other short term emergencies, not an ongoing situation that has extended now for over a six month period.
The people elect county council members to conduct county business in open session with full public discussion of important issues. Maybe it’s me, but the extension of an emergency ordinance which dictates how business is conducted, how people gather, how they worship and why council is transferring considerable decision making to staff is important enough to demand open discussion by council members.
Government in secret, whisperings behind closed doors by a select few, is not government at all. It is tyranny.