Local Elections: A Tale of Three Cities

By Paul Gable

As voters go to the polls tomorrow to cast ballots in local city elections, an interesting contrast exists between issues facing voters in Conway, North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach.

We’ll start with Conway, which is probably the easiest. Residents of Conway seem satisfied with the way city issues have been managed for the past six years or so. There seems to be a team approach among council members to dealing with issues. Growth is happening but not at the frenetic pace seen in other parts of the county. Crime is always an issue but not nearly as severe as in Myrtle Beach, for example.

The city has had issues with flooding, but city council has taken a proactive approach to mitigating where possible. Areas of the city will continue to flood when heavy rain events occur. However, council continues to work on projects to minimize its effects on residents and businesses as much as possible.

All of the above is probably good news for the reelection of incumbents William Goldfinch and Shane Hubbard. The one open seat resulting from the retirement of Jean Timbes should probably be filled by a woman again to keep what has been a presence of two or more women on the council for a number of years. Candidate Beth Helms seems to have distanced herself from the other four challengers in the last couple of weeks and “team” solutions are a strong point of the Helms campaign.

North Myrtle Beach falls into the general atmosphere of satisfaction among North Myrtle Beach voters also. Incumbent mayor Marilyn Hatley and council members Nikki Fontana and Trey Skidmore probably have an inside track on being reelected.

The Ocean Drive seat is open as incumbent Terry White is retiring from office. Two candidates, Bubba Collins and Norfleet Jones, are contesting the open seat.

Jones has been at the center of several controversies in his at least three terms on the Horry County Solid Waste Authority Board. He was among board members who approved the expenditure of over $1 million in lobbying fees during the months of June 2012 and July 2012. The checks were split among the two months so the total expenditure would not appear in one fiscal year statement.

Jones and the board have consistently ignored the original mandate of County Council when it established the authority, namely to find and utilize alternative means of waste disposal to dumping in the environmentally sensitive Hwy 90 landfill area adjacent to Sterritt Swamp. Instead, the board has approved expansion after expansion of the Hwy 90 landfill area. The taxpayers of Horry County will be on the hook for costly cleanup if something goes wrong at the landfill.

In short, transparency and forward thinking fiscal responsibility have not been practiced by the SWA board both before and during Jones’ tenure.

Terry White, the retiring council member, has endorsed Bubba Collins to replace him.

Myrtle Beach presents problems for voters. Incumbents, Mayor Brenda Bethune and council members Jackie Hatley, Gregg Smith and Mike Lowder, are hard pressed to present actual improvements in the management of the city during their current four-year terms.

The city is best known among locals as a crime ridden place with a deteriorated downtown area and a considerable number of empty commercial buildings. It is not the “family friendly” place it still claims to be but hasn’t been for at least 15 years.

The current council’s approach to redeveloping the downtown seems to be taken directly out of the Marxist playbook – government central planning with special favors to cronies. The Ocean Boulevard overlay zone, enacted since the 2017 election, appears to be nothing more than an attempt to bankrupt Jewish owned businesses in the city.

Public safety and crime continue to be the major concerns of a majority of citizens and the best incumbent council members have come up with to counter those concerns is alleging the crime statistics for the city are skewed.

Council challengers John Newman and Alex Fogel say new sets of eyes are needed to bring fresh ideas to how the city is managed.

Newman recently released a six-minute video detailing how he would address the issue of crime. He specifically criticized the fact that there are no goals set for the city manager and the police department to make them accountable to council. Newman also noted the disparity of business in the northern section of the city versus the old south end and Market Common. He pledged to treat all businesses throughout the city the same with particular attention paid to the many small businesses, which are often targeted with onerous regulations.

Newman said year after year it’s the same problems in the city with nothing being done about them.

The contest for Myrtle Beach mayor has incumbent Brenda Bethune being challenged by Gene Ho, Tammy Durant, William McClure and C. D. Rozsa.

In her limited public appearances, Bethune has chosen to criticize Ho rather than run on her record of the last four years in office. Maybe that’s because her record is one of continuing crime problems, numerous lawsuits in which the city has generally been the losing party and an alleged downtown redevelopment plan that has seen the city take on new debt to finance while the downtown area continues to decline.

While failing to address these issues, Bethune and her campaign have pushed the message that Ho is heavily involved in QAnon and that he does not live in the city, a requirement to hold city office.

A rather muddled piece linking Ho with QAnon was published in a local weekly newspaper outlet on Friday.

A hit piece on Ho’s alleged lack of city residency was published by the area’s daily newspaper in its Sunday edition.

Local issues, not national issues, will be Ho’s focus if he wins. Ho has demonstrated an understanding of the local issues that concern city residents (e.g. crime) and spoken of his solutions for those problems. This is much more than Bethune has addressed.

The issue of his residency is really a non-issue. Ho owns a house in the Prestwick sub-division and used that as his primary residence in 2020, according to Horry County tax records. However, he changed his primary residence to an oceanfront condominium in the city limits of Myrtle Beach for 2021, according to those same Horry County records. Additionally, Ho’s driver’s license and voter registration card list the condominium as his residence.

A little research beyond year old tax records by the Bethune campaign operatives and the newspaper would have revealed the true facts, but apparently neither the campaign nor the newspaper was interested in those facts.

Myrtle Beach residents would probably be best served by turning out the incumbents and getting new faces and new ideas to address the city’s issues.

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