By Paul Gable
It has been one week since six members of Horry County Council blindly followed the lead of administrator Chris Eldridge with the story pitched by Eldridge about how and why he called for a SLED investigation with false allegations against Chairman Johnny Gardner.
Last week’s farce seemed more like River City than Horry County with Eldridge playing the part of Harold Hill.
But that is exactly what happens when council members are unwilling to ask questions of the administrator about his story or give more than a cursory glance at the SLED report and the tape recording at its center.
Prior to a November 30, 2018 lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Eldridge already had his narrative established of what would be told to SLED 20 days later.
This is obvious from the sworn statements given to SLED investigators by Eldridge and Davis. Almost immediately after the lunch meeting ended, Eldridge peppered Davis with specific questions about Donald Smith, supposed stories that were supposed to be written by me, payments to the Beach Ball Classic and a statement by Eldridge about funneling money to Smith.
Eldridge told SLED Davis was “upset” after the meeting. Davis told SLED the meeting went well and EDC board chairman Neyle Wilson said Davis said the same to him and his interpretation of the meeting was quite the opposite of that of Eldridge.
Nineteen days after the meeting, Eldridge, attorney Arrigo Carotti, council members Mark Lazarus and Gary Loftus, Wilson, Davis, Steele and Fred Richardson of the EDC listened to the portion of the recording of the meeting that was pertinent to Eldridge’s false allegations.
According to Davis and Wilson, Eldridge was the only member of the group that “thought he heard something” on the tape to support his allegations. The others said there was nothing there.
According to Wilson, there was no mention of contacting SLED after the recording listening session. Eldridge asked for a copy of the recording. Wilson said if county council sent a letter to EDC requesting a copy, Wilson would take the request to the EDC Executive Board and Wilson expected the board would provide a copy to council.
“That’s what I expected would happen the next day,” Wilson said.
Instead, the next day Eldridge contacted SLED requesting an investigation and news of the SLED contact and allegations were leaked to a Columbia media outlet.
SLED investigated Eldridge’s false allegations. No wrongdoing was uncovered, according to the report of the investigation.
However, six members of council, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant, Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus, Bill Howard and Cam Crawford continued to support Eldridge and his misguided actions by voting not to fire him.
Loftus, Worley, DiSabato and Servant made at least one comment during the meeting while Crawford and Howard sat with sphinx like silence during the discussion.
A large crowd supporting the firing of Eldridge attended the special meeting called to discuss the issue last week.
Maybe Crawford and Howard were afraid to speak in front of the crowd. Howard was just reelected, but Crawford must run again for his seat next year.
It would seem a member with reelection just over the horizon would at least feel the need to explain to the public his reluctance to fire an administrator who tried to setup an incoming chairman with false allegations.
Maybe Crawford doesn’t want to be reelected. I’m quite certain there is a large portion of the voting public willing to honor that negative want.
I’m certain there will be long memories among the voters about six council members who voted against firing an administrator who lodged false allegations against the chairman, apparently attempting to overturn the election results from Gardner’s victory.
During the long history of American democracy, there have often been questions of whether the representatives elected by the people should vote after consultation with voters or vote according to their own decision about what is best.
Either way, I believe the voters are entitled to hear an explanation of why a representative cast his vote in a particular way, especially when that vote supports an administrator who falsely accused a popularly elected chairman in an apparent attempt to overturn the will of those same voters.
For those who may have missed it, here is a link to the SLED report:Bistro Meeting