By Paul Gable
Mark Lazarus officially kicked off his campaign to recapture the chairmanship of Horry County Council Thursday night surrounded by his friends – Myrtle Beach Chamber and Grand Strand Business Alliance members as well as other members of the local cabal.
From the talking point clips and quotes attributed to Lazarus in local media over the last several days, it is obvious Lazarus is trying to rewrite the history of his years as chairman from 2013-2018.
Lazarus pledged to get county government ‘back on track’ when the only track it has left was the autocracy track the Lazarus years led it down toward funding I-73 and other initiatives to benefit special interests.
The most comical quote I have seen attributed to Lazarus is his promise of “investing in police services”, something he absolutely refused to do when chairman. There was a reason the police and fire organizations of Horry County endorsed current Chairman Johnny Gardner four years ago, in his run against Lazarus, and it wasn’t because Lazarus did anything to improve their lives.
The most memorable quote by Lazarus in the 2018 campaign was when he called the public safety personnel of the county “Thugs” late in the campaign because they asked him difficult questions about how they were treated at a campaign event.
In fact, Lazarus was not popular with the county employees in general as he, in coordination with former administrator Chris Eldridge, treated county employees as ‘serfs’ subject to the whims of the ruling duo.
Lazarus pointed to his perceived ineffectiveness of impact fees passed by the Gardner council, something his development buddies never wanted and have always fought. Lazarus avoided even trying to pass impact fees to reduce some of the costs of development for current county citizens because the cabal didn’t want them.
Lazarus said he ‘fostered a spirit of partnership with neighboring municipalities’ obviously forgetting it was the unilateral actions of the Lazarus council to extend hospitality fees and change their use that led to the cities suing the county shortly after Lazarus left office. And Lazarus was chairman of county council when the county joined the Horry County School Board in a lawsuit against Myrtle Beach for use of disputed funds in the redevelopment authority TIF on the former airbase.
While Lazarus talks about improving local roads, it was that change in hospitality fees and a later signing of a contract with SCDOT, shortly before Lazarus left office, that almost caused the county to be committed to giving SCDOT up to $40 million per year, for 30 years, of locally collected tax dollars for construction of Interstate 73. Fortunately, council cancelled that contract before turning over any local tax dollars after Lazarus left office.
There was one article in a local newspaper, which seems intent on doing the Chamber’s bidding in print, that mentioned a SLED investigation of current chairman Johnny Gardner.
What it didn’t mention is a five-page fictional memorandum authored by County Attorney Arrigo Carotti at the behest of former administrator Eldridge and with close communication with Lazarus, as demonstrated by emails that became public after the fact, was the source of that investigation. SLED didn’t drop its investigation, as reported, in fact, SLED said nothing occurred and totally exonerated Gardner.
It didn’t help the attempt to keep Gardner from taking office that the main source quoted in Carotti’s memo called the five-page document “mostly fiction” and reported the same to SLED.
So, Lazarus kicked off his campaign in the nice friendly atmosphere of the cabal with an altered view of history. It’s no surprise at the people who attended. It was the same crew that attended his “victory party” four years ago when he lost.
But what is especially notable was the people who weren’t there – average citizens, regular county employees, public safety personnel, namely, the voters of Horry County.