By Paul Gable
Over 250 people attended a Meet and Greet for First Responders hosted by the Johnny Gardner Campaign for Horry County Council Chairman last night.
The above estimate of crowd size was derived from the number of meals served at the event. And the food was excellent – Low Country Seafood Boil and BBQ with all the fixins’. Entertainment was provided by local Bluegrass music celebrities McRoy Gardner and Friends.
A large number of first responders – police, fire and EMS personnel – came from all over Horry County to attend. Officers, both active and retired, residing in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, Garden City, Socastee, Carolina Forest, Conway and the rural areas of the county all made the trip to Conway for the event.
I met one retired police officer who is a relatively new resident in Horry County. He retired after 26 years with the Randolph Township, (NJ) police department. Initially he and his wife lived for 10 years in North Carolina before relocating to Horry County for their golden years.
Why do I mention this? It demonstrates the reach of the Gardner campaign.
After speaking to him it turns out we graduated from the same high school in Rockaway, NJ and grew up within a couple miles of each other, but, with a nine year age difference between us, never met until last night. This officer is a strong supporter of Fraternal Order of Police National President Chuck Canterbury, a retired HCPD officer, who is a strong supporter of Gardner.
Canterbury and Rob Mullaney, President of Horry County Professional Fire Fighters Local 4345 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, both spoke to the crowd.
Each mentioned the lack of support Horry County Police and Fire/Rescue departments have received from Horry County Council as numbers in the ranks of both departments have suffered attrition due to the lack of sufficient staffing in each department.
Both the FOP and IAFF members in Horry County have endorsed Gardner’s candidacy.
“Four years ago we endorsed Mark Lazarus,” said Canterbury. “He promised us a lot of things and nothing’s been done.”
Gardner told the crowd that the average elapsed time in Horry County, after a call to a 911 operator has been answered until a police officer arrives on the scene, is over 20 minutes. Gardner said this time delay is caused by serious understaffing at HCPD. Gardner said the Horry County Fire/Rescue department suffers from similar understaffing issues and called those issued unacceptable.
Gardner said his number one priority as Horry County Council Chairman would be “First Responders First.” He went on to explain that budgeting for Horry County Government goods and services must be done on a priority basis with budgeting for adequate staffing and pay of first responders the top priority.
Maybe the largest ovation Gardner received from the crowd was when he referred to his active duty service with the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.
“I learned as an officer in the 82nd Airborne Division the motto ‘Mission First, Troops Always’,” Gardner said. What that means is you do whatever it takes to complete a mission but you always look out for the welfare of the soldiers under your command. I want to bring that same mindset to Horry County Government with respect to our first responders and all county employees.”
I have witnessed many political campaigns in Horry County over the three and one-half decades I have lived here. It is always difficult for a challenger to defeat an incumbent officeholder.
One of the most impressive examples of a challenger campaign I have seen run in Horry County was the 2000 campaign of then Horry County Police Captain Philip Thompson against incumbent Horry County Sheriff Teddy Henry.
Thompson on the back of a pickup truck addressing crowds enjoying Chicken Bog dinners prepared by Horry County Police Department members took place around the county as Thompson went on to record an upset victory and claim the Horry County Sheriff seat which he still holds.
The Gardner campaign has the same type of feel where average citizens of Horry County are coming out in impressive numbers to support a political outsider they feel a connection to who is bringing a message of change to a county wide election contest.
The Republican Primary for Horry County Council Chairman and other local and statewide offices will be held June 12, 2018.