By Paul Gable
A discussion during last week’s Horry County Council Budget Retreat, about county council hiring its own attorney to represent council only, highlighted the deep rift that continues to plague and embarrass council as long as administrator Chris Eldridge is allowed to remain in his county position.
Council member Al Allen introduced the idea of council hiring an attorney to represent council as a body after referring to actions by county attorney Arrigo Carotti in what now appears to have been a civil conspiracy to keep Chairman Johnny Gardner from taking office.
Carotti authored a five-page memo based entirely on his recollection and interpretation of one or more conversations he had with economic development officials weeks before. The memo described actions and statements that never occurred in attempting to weave a narrative implicating Gardner in possibly illegal actions. In his narrative, Carotti made false statements about other persons in the community, supposedly in connection with Gardner and Barefoot, including yours truly.
The memo was used by Eldridge to request a SLED investigation into Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot. Eldridge’s request to SLED was made on the morning of December 20, 2019 after the Carotti memo had been leaked and published by a Columbia media outlet.
After the memo was leaked and published, Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Davis, the primary source for the Carotti memo according to Carotti, was quoted in several media stories as calling most of the memo “fabricated.”
Carotti and Eldridge were interviewed by SLED investigators on January 7, 2019. The next day, Carotti sent an email to SLED attempting to influence the direction of the investigation, even asserting that Davis was lying when she called the memo fabricated, and dictating what conclusions should and should not be drawn from it.
SLED found no evidence of impropriety on the part of Gardner and Barefoot during its investigation and Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson announced there was no evidence of criminal activity.
There was nothing documenting or confirming the allegations made in the Carotti memo. It was nothing but recollections about third party conversations he and/or Eldridge had with Davis and the memo was quickly discredited by Davis to both media and SLED investigators.
On March 5, 2019, after the SLED findings, actually non-findings, were made public, council held a meeting to discuss the entire affair. Six council members stood for what is right for the county and its government by voting to fire Eldridge. Six others, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus, Bill Howard and Dennis DiSabato, the Deep Six, did not stand with them.
During the March 5th council discussion, it was revealed that at least several members of the Deep Six had discussions with Eldridge about the fictitious allegations prior to the memo being sent to SLED.
Another member, DiSabato, insisted on the council dais to have heard evidence of “pay to play” even after SLED found no evidence of such a scheme.
After Allen made his suggestion to council last week, Howard launched into a tribute to Carotti calling him “right at the top” of attorneys he has had dealings with through the years. Council member Johnny Vaught echoed Howard’s comments.
One struggles to understand how any council member can believe authoring an entirely fictitious memo and attempting to double down on that memo when it has become apparent a SLED investigation is finding no evidence to support the fiction is doing a good job. There may even be violations of several canons of the legal profession that govern the conduct of attorneys in those missives.
If council members choose to ignore this, they do so at their own peril.
As Allen stated in a Facebook post this past weekend, “Courage is not “going along to get along” it’s standing for what is right regardless if others refuse to stand with you!!! When you see those in higher places commit acts that are morally, ethically and possibly criminally wrong and are not being held accountable we as elected officials have failed to do our job!!!”
However, there may be other motivations behind the actions of at least some of the Deep Six. It appears a civil conspiracy took place to subvert the will of the voters and keep Gardner from taking office. The fictitious memo is at the center of this conspiracy and the council members who accepted the narrative in the memo without any documentation or other evidence to support it are complicit.
This entire affair cannot be ignored and it is not going away. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the SLED report and the March 5th vote on Eldridge’s status ‘Is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is only the end of the beginning.’
And it will only serve to continue to embarrass council along the way.