By Paul Gable
Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato moved to adjourn council’s regular meeting last night before a discussion of county legal fees by council could take place. Council agenda listed the request for the discussion was initiated by council member Al Allen.
There is no question that a discussion of how much and to who the county pays fees for outside attorney assistance is public information. In a lawsuit two years ago, the county agreed that disclosure of legal fees ”is not legally privileged, is not exempt from disclosure under FOIA, and that it is important to the public interest that this information be available to the citizens and taxpayers of Horry County.”
Council voted 8-4 to adjourn the meeting with chairman Johnny Gardner and council members Allen, Harold Worley and Tyler Servant voting No.
Prematurely ending the meeting was the only parliamentary maneuver available to keep discussion of county legal fees from taking place in the meeting. Coming as it did immediately prior to the scheduled discussion makes it appear that DiSabato’s erratic behavior in bringing the motion was prompted by an ulterior motive for not wanting the discussion to take place publicly from the council dais.
This is not the first time DiSabato has exhibited erratic behavior with respect to issues associated with the county legal department.
In December 2018, county attorney Arrigo Carotti authored a five-page memorandum attempting to allege that then council chairmen elect Johnny Gardner had acted in an unethical manner with respect to a discussion held with the executive director of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.
The memo was quickly leaked to a Columbia media outlet who reported the allegations.
The memorandum was sent to SLED by then county administrator Chris Eldridge. SLED conducted an investigation into the allegations which completely exonerated Gardner from any wrongdoing.
While the investigation was underway, Carotti sent an email to SLED which appeared to be an attempt to influence how the investigation was being conducted.
Allen criticized Carotti’s actions during a March 2019 council discussion of the issue after SLED had sent its report of the investigation to the county. During that council discussion DiSabato faulted the SLED report and insisted Carotti’s allegations were factual.
Council ultimately terminated Eldridge’s employment by buying out his contract. Current administrator Steve Gosnell chose to allow Carotti to remain as county attorney despite Carotti’s actions in authoring the false allegations and apparently attempting to influence the SLED investigation.
DiSabato was quite happy to pontificate on already disproven allegations by the county attorney from the council dais two years ago but quickly moved to stifle discussion of county legal fees Tuesday.
DiSabato’s premature termination of the council meeting raises interesting questions.
Did DiSabato act alone or was he working in concert with others, possibly a senior county staff member or members, in keeping the discussion from taking place?
What is the perceived harm in having an open discussion by council on legal fees paid by the county when this is unquestionably public information?
Was administrator Gosnell, who is an employee of county council, aware prior to the meeting that DiSabato would move to stifle a public discussion requested by another member of council? Or, did one or more members of senior staff go around Gosnell and speak directly with DiSabato to plan early adjournment?
Open discussion and complete transparency on issues is what citizens demand from their council members.
After the meeting, local media reported council member Johnny Vaught said there was some confusion among some council members about how information about legal fees might be presented.
That statement appears to be utter nonsense. The presentation would be a mere statement of fact that “X” amount of public dollars was spent with “Y” law firm over a specified period of time.
Chairman Gardner was obviously upset with the premature ending of the meeting. He noted that some business of the people before council would not be acted upon as a result of the adjournment.
Gardner mentioned council was scheduled for an executive session regarding purchase or sale of land and the families of recently deceased county citizens were robbed of the opportunity to have their loved ones honored by memorial dedications with the premature adjournment.
For some reason yet to be disclosed, ending the meeting was more important than these agenda items.