By Paul Gable
During the regular meeting of Horry County Council April 2, 2019, Chairman Johnny Gardner informed council members that negotiations regarding the exit of administrator Chris Eldridge are ongoing.
There have been some indications that Eldridge believes he has claims against the county that could result in an exit package of significant dollars.
What Eldridge apparently fails to understand is there are others who have potential claims against him and the apparent conspiracy to defame Gardner and others that began with emails as early as December 12, 2018.
There is no question it is past time for Eldridge to go. Four months have passed since he and attorney Arrigo Carotti began developing a narrative to defame the character and reputation of Gardner.
It has been a month since council deadlocked in a 6-6 vote on a motion to fire Eldridge, allowing him to remain in his position as administrator.
Since that vote, new information has been uncovered through Freedom of Information Act requests that point to a joint effort by Eldridge, Carotti and former chairman Mark Lazarus to develop a narrative that could be brought to SLED for an investigation of Gardner.
Eldridge requested the SLED investigation on December 20, 2018 after Carotti completed a five-page memo containing a narrative for which there were no facts to substantiate the authenticity of the memo’s narrative.
The memo was completed after Lazarus, Eldridge, Carotti and council member Gary Loftus listened on December 19, 2018 to a portion of a recording of a November 30, 2018 lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development (EDC) officials Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele.
On that recording, Carotti and Eldridge alleged there was evidence of attempted extortion of EDC by Gardner and/or Barefoot.
Emails and texts between Eldridge and Lazarus, obtained through FOIA, demonstrate a narrative had already been developed and Lazarus first mentioned SLED on December 12, 2018, one week before Eldridge, Carotti and Lazarus listened to the recording.
However, Carotti’s memo went further by including Donald Smith, Donald Godwin and myself in his narrative and attributing to each of us actions or words that were totally fictitious.
It is interesting the Carotti memo was leaked to a Columbia media outlet shortly it had been sent to all council members on the night of December 19, 2018 and Eldridge used the leak of the memo as the excuse he needed to call for SLED to investigate as Eldridge stated numerous times during a March 5, 2019 special meeting of council.
During that meeting, Eldridge said he had been told by several council members to advise SLED. Those members named by Eldridge include Lazarus, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant and Gary Loftus.
During the special meeting, Worley said he only learned of the allegations after he received a copy of the Carotti memo on the evening of December 19, 2018, after which he called Eldridge. However, contradicting himself, Worley also related to the special meeting a conversation he had with Lazarus about discussing the allegations against Gardner in executive session at the December 18, 2018 regular meeting of council.
According to Worley’s narrative, he spoke with Lazarus about allegations against Gardner one night before becoming aware of those allegations. This narrative either demonstrates amazing powers of seeing into the future or proves there was a coordinated effort among the administrator, attorney and certain members of council to develop a narrative defaming Gardner prior to anyone listening to details of the lunch meeting.
During the March 5, 2019 special meeting Eldridge was asked by council member Dennis DiSabato whether he “overlooked” the SLED investigation. Eldridge denied contacting SLED about the investigation after his initial contact with the agency on December 20, 2018.
However, an email was sent to SLED by Carotti on January 8, 2019, again obtained by FOIA, in which Carotti directs SLED on what evidence should be sought, who should be interviewed, what questions these individuals should be asked and what were unacceptable conclusions for the SLED investigation.
Given the micromanagement style of Eldridge, it is impossible to believe Carotti sent this email to SLED, attempting to directly influence the investigation and its conclusions, without the prior knowledge of Eldridge.
Despite the best efforts of Eldridge, Carotti and their co-conspirators, SLED found the allegations false and no wrongdoing on the part of anyone named in the original Carotti memo.
But, certain council members didn’t let the false narrative end with the SLED findings.
DiSabato went on a rant during the March 5th special meeting specifically ignoring the SLED report while claiming he heard on the recording of the November 30, 2018 lunch meeting “that Mr. Gardner had with his campaign manager and business associate Luke Barefoot where they discussed with economic development officials a scheme by which they would take taxpayer funds and direct them to a campaign consultant (Smith).”
“Did Mr. Barefoot not say you ought to hire someone to give you political cover and protect your budget?” DiSabato asked rhetorically.
Actually no Barefoot did not say any such thing but don’t let the truth get in the way of the fictional narrative.
Apparently DiSabato believes himself to be a much better investigator than those detailed by SLED since he claims to find things in the recording that they didn’t.
In the days after the special meeting, Servant authored an op-ed he submitted to the Sun News in which he spoke of “paid agendas” and “backroom deals”, none of which SLED found any evidence of. Again, never let the truth get in the way of advancing the fictional narrative or advancing some other agenda.
Eldridge said during the special meeting that he was being retaliated against and attacked for doing his job. He must believe his job is to make up a narrative about the chairman being involved in some type of nefarious scheme, then attempting to do everything he can to advance his false narrative including attempting to influence the SLED investigation toward a certain conclusion.
Eldridge’s misunderstanding of his job responsibilities as demonstrated by his above statement are enough reason to fire him. The self-serving garbage and arrogance that was voiced by Eldridge during the special meeting were exceedingly juvenile.
Shortly after the original Carotti memo became public, an attorney friend of mine said he believed a civil conspiracy was taking place to defame Gardner and others with the hope that Gardner would be prevented from taking office as council chairman.
It appears that belief has been borne out by the narrative in the original memo, as well as emails, text messages and false statements by the administrator, attorney and certain council members that have come to light as this issue continued to be discussed in the media and by council including the Deep Six, DiSabato, Loftus, Servant, Worley, Bill Howard and Cam Crawford, who continue to protect Eldridge by voting not to fire him.
Recently there have been discussions by those who have been injured, by a reckless disregard for the truth demonstrated in memos, news articles, council discussions and other public venues, about a major lawsuit being considered against the perpetrators of the original narrative and those who chose to continue to advance that false narrative even after the SLED investigation was completed.
Once discovery and depositions begin, it is possible what appears to be a civil conspiracy at this point may rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy when the facts come out.