By Paul Gable
As Myrtle Beach prepares for its 2013 city council elections, the city continues its regressive governance slide to more closely resemble an English town of the Middle Ages rather than a modern American town.
Four incumbents on Myrtle Beach city council filed for re-election last week. Incumbent Mayor John Rhodes was joined by incumbent council members Wayne Gray, Randal Wallace and Mike Lowder at city hall on August 22nd to file their candidacies.
Rhodes is seeking his third consecutive term, Wallace his fourth consecutive, Gray his fourth overall and Lowder his second.
And right now, those four plus challenger Keith Van Winkle may be the complete slate sent to the voters in the November 5th general election.
There was a time when Myrtle Beach elections were raucous affairs, but in the last decade, the town has gone back in time to match a more rigid, hierarchical structure.
Myrtle Beach elections now resemble those of an English town in the Middle Ages.
The medieval town had a defined hierarchy and those with the most power had the greatest say in how the town was run.
Medieval towns were built on trade, and the elite of towns were the merchants. Merchant guilds controlled town government. Townspeople were answerable to the town government which was largely run to benefit the trade upon which the town thrived.
Those who elected the officers of the town council were the freemen – usually full members of one of the town’s merchant guilds.
The freemen were in reality a small, closed and rarely-changing group of males who held the power to run the town and the trade within that community.
Tell me this doesn’t sound exactly like Myrtle Beach in 2013. Insert Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce for “merchant guild.” Replace “freemen” with Dunes Club card room regulars who also double in many instances as the board of the Chamber.
The town’s “elite”, at least in their minds, (some would call them the Myrtle Beach Mafia) can be found in the north end Dunes and Pine Lakes private country clubs. Most of city council resides within several blocks of each other in one of these two areas and the majority of voters in recent city elections have come from these precincts.
And the idea that Myrtle Beach government is run for the benefit of the merchant class was solidified by the passage of the 2009 one cent sales tax for tourism, which allowed private businesses to reduce their marketing budgets by over 90% while this expense was transferred to workers, and the local merchant guild experienced a $20+ million revenue increase from public taxes.
Even an English town in the Middle Ages, which was structured to benefit the merchants, was hard pressed to match these accomplishments.
There is one difference – law enforcement. The law was enforced in all sections of a medieval town, although admittedly they were quite small. In Myrtle Beach, the law is strictly enforced in the north end while the south end must put up with home invasions, drive by shootings, strong arm robberies, drug dealers and a concentration of what passes for the city’s red light districts. Crime is segregated away from the “elite” end of town.
This sad state of affairs will continue until the residents of the south end rise up to throw the merchants out and return the city to the more modern American system.
It doesn’t look like this will happen in 2013, so Myrtle Beach will continue with its Middle Ages mentality where the few benefit at the expense of the many.
Even England, which in many ways is steeped in the traditions of the past, has had the good sense to overthrow such a system of government.