By Paul Gable
Johnny Gardner’s primary victory over incumbent Mark Lazarus to become the Chairman of Horry County Council beginning tomorrow is the top story for 2018.
As the incumbent, Lazarus was endorsed by a number of elected officials in the county including U. S. Rep. Tom Rice, most of the county legislative delegation members, his 11 co-members of county council and most of the county’s mayors. He was also supported by most of the Myrtle Beach Chamber crowd and those others in the county who consider themselves power brokers.
Gardner was supported by a vast majority of the employees of Horry County Government including endorsements by the public safety fraternal organizations Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 of the International Association of Firefighters and Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12. He was also supported by a majority of those voters often overlooked by Horry County politicos and power brokers – the average citizens.
The 2018 election cycle was a change cycle in Horry County. Three out of four incumbents who received serious challenges in either the primaries or general election lost and the fourth squeaked by with just over a 30 vote victory margin.
Supporting the concept that Gardner’s victory was the most watched of those four are events that have happened since the June 12th primary.
Horry County voters supported an advisory referendum on changing the state impact fee law to require new development to pay for more of its costs by a nearly three out of four margin (73% to 27%).
Developers rushed to get a number of rezonings approved in the last six months of the year, but not without some significant defeats along the way.
County staff “discovered” that more of the approximately $41 million of hospitality tax revenue could be used for areas such as public safety, infrastructure and recreation than they had previously acknowledged.
Lazarus led a major push to have council pass a resolution approving a contract with the S. C. Department of Transportation for rights of way acquisition, engineering and construction of I-73 in Horry County. Part of that resolution designates $25 million per year of hospitality tax revenue to go into a special road fund for the I-73 project but the resolution is not a hard appropriation of tax dollars.
Most significant of apparent resistance to Gardner’s imminent chairmanship of county council was an effort by county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti to tie Gardner to an entirely fictional scheme to “funnel” money from the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation to Gardner’s campaign consultant.
Eldridge first gave birth to this fictional scheme in a December 12th email to EDC board member Neyle Wilson talking about a taped conversation Davis and her number two Sherri Steele had with Gardner and his campaign manager Luke Barefoot.
On December 19th, Carotti completed a five-page email of recollected snippets of second and third hand conversations with EDC CEO Sandy Davis, which occurred over a more than two week period, to support this ‘conspiracy theory.
The email was supposedly a confidential communication sent to the 12 current members of county council and Eldridge. However, within approximately 12 hours of its completion, the entire email was leaked to a Columbia media outlet, with the word “extortion” added to the narrative, and published on the same day as Gardner’s ceremonial swearing in as county council chairman.
Eldridge called in SLED to investigate this fictional scheme.
GSD confidently predicts the SLED investigation will find no facts to support the allegations of Eldridge and Carotti because they never happened!
However, council should investigate who leaked the email, who was involved, if anyone, with Eldridge and Carotti in developing the fictional narrative and what should be the repercussions for their actions?
It is amazing what a primary election victory can cause in Horry County.