By Paul Gable
When Horry County Council convened its fall budget retreat last week, charges of racism were the last thing I expected to hear emerge from the deliberations.
But emerge they did, exposing what appear to be systemic problems in Horry County government that go well beyond the simple balancing of revenues and expenditures.
The controversy started with a 6 a.m. Thursday morning (the day of the budget retreat) email requesting further information about the annual compensation package of Coast RTA CEO Myers Rollins. This started a two day email exchange viewed by Coast RTA board members, Horry County Council members and Horry County government staff as well as a phone call to Columbia attorney Jay Bender, an expert on the S.C. Freedom of Information law.
References that the request possibly violated the “Older Workers Benefits Protection Act” and “Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act” were made as well as a statement by a Coast RTA board member that the request was “distasteful at best and show a continued pattern of racism” (toward Rollins and his management staff).
As all of Rollins compensation package is paid for with public funds, information about it is public information. Bender made this perfectly clear and not understanding this point demonstrates a lack of understanding of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
However, another statement by a Coast RTA board member, “I know of no other agency in Horry County who has an executive leadership receiving the scrutiny that Myers Rollins and his team receives…” gets to the crux of the situation.
Ever since last spring, when consideration of the current fiscal year budget of Horry County resulted in county council temporarily freezing fourth quarter funding for Coast RTA, friction between at least some Horry County Council members and Coast RTA board members has existed.
Presumably, county council thought Rollins and Coast RTA was not doing enough to attempt to increase representation of Horry County on the Coast RTA board, a representation that is determined by state law.
Horry County provides Coast RTA funding of $1.06 million per year (six-tenths of a mill). Yet Horry County provides funding to the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation of $1.3 million (with the possibility of up to $1.8 million) with less representation, by percentage, on the MBREDC board and virtually no scrutiny of MBREDC operations. Remember AvCraft and Project Blue?
Even worse, the Horry County Solid Waste Authority is a county created agency whose budget is approximately $22 million this year. County council appoints the seven member board of the HCSWA, but exercises no real scrutiny of HCSWA operations, including its actual, legal status and the compensation of its top officials, even though the HCSWA funds are all public money.
When an HCSWA board member recently shared his concerns about the lack of long term planning by the HCSWA, with members of county council, the HCSWA board tried to censor him and county council never raised one concern, at least publicly.
It is fine for county council to exercise close scrutiny of agencies to which it appropriates public money, but it should be consistent in its level of scrutiny.
Singling out Coast RTA for closer scrutiny than the MBREDC or the HCSWA is not consistent. It lays council open to charges of possible racism because the Coast RTA board and staff is composed of more persons of color than the other two and it directly serves persons of color more than the other two.