By Paul Gable
The key issue in the campaign for the Republican nomination for Horry County Council erupted last night at the candidate forum in the Burgess Community and council chairman Mark Lazarus chose to walk out of the meeting rather than discuss it.
The issue is the treatment of public safety personnel in particular and county employees in general. According to numerous sources from rank and file county employees, Lazarus, in coordination with senior staff, treats them like automatons to do as they’re told and face retribution if they ask any questions.
Below are three emails sent to the Johnny Gardner campaign and shared with Grand Strand Daily from rank and file first responders who are completely frustrated with the way they have been treated and ignored by county council and county senior staff. Messages like those below are sent to the Gardner campaign on a daily basis by different individuals:
“I’m sure the members of HCFR will support you but they truly fear retribution if things don’t turn out right. That’s how it’s been here. In the recent past about 2/3 of the supervisors at HCFR were transferred for no apparent reason. Also our Deputy Chief was asked to resign because he had a dissenting opinion from the Public Safety Director. So, in my eyes fear of retribution is real.”
“Thank you for recognizing our need in the fire rescue and police public safety side of things. Our departments have gone on too long operating under the good ole boy budget … thank you again for fighting for us, the public safety guys/citizens of Horry County, who only want our departments to serve the county to its fullest capacity!”
“I am a FF with HCFR, and I just wanted to let you know that you are very well appreciated and backed by myself, and just about everyone I know in the Dept. Can’t wait for June 12th to get someone on the council who sees the needs of the county as a priority.”
Questioned on treatment of personnel within the Fire Rescue Department by a former fire fighter who is now disabled because of injuries suffered from falling debris while fighting a fire in the county, Lazarus told the man “You are no longer a county employee, I am not going to answer your question.”
Questioned about the pay difference between Horry County and Myrtle Beach police officers, Lazarus told the crowd the man asking was a union representative and “We don’t recognize unions in South Carolina. He then went on a rambling answer about how much had been done for the police since he has been chairman.
Actually, the man asking the above question is a serving police officer with Horry County. The Fraternal Order of Police and International Association of Fire Fighters are not collective bargaining entities in the state and they are certainly not unions here. They are fraternal organizations in South Carolina, but Lazarus obviously believes the word “union” will play negatively against their members with voters.
Four years ago, Lazarus was endorsed by both the local FOP and IAFF lodges. They were great guys then. Lazarus again sought both endorsements this year, but the organizations chose to endorse his opponent Johnny Gardner. Therefore, those organizations are now ridiculed and painted as wearing ‘black hats’ by Lazarus because they wouldn’t endorse him.
After Lazarus’ rambling diatribe, which did not answer the police officer’s question, Lazarus said he was done for the night. “I’m not going to stand here and be abused by these guys,” he said and walked out the door of the meeting hall.
Lazarus was not personally attacked verbally or threatened. What Lazarus considers abuse is hard questions asked by county employees who don’t believe he has lived up to his promises made to them four years ago.
And that, unfortunately, is the fate of county employees – keep your mouth shut, don’t question the actions or motives of senior staff or council. Otherwise you will be retaliated against, generally with the option of resigning or being fired.
Lazarus has touted his ‘leadership’ throughout this campaign. Those who work for the county say his leadership is one of an autocrat with the county administrator as the enforcer and the county council members of “Team Horry” doing as they are told.
And it’s not working!