Horry County records show Clark Parker paid the three unpaid tax bills referred to below on August 19, 2019.
By Paul Gable
Like a racehorse losing a race by stumbling out of the starting gate in his first steps, we may have witnessed the beginning and effective end of the Clark Parker campaign for Horry County Auditor on the day it began.
Parker had his campaign kickoff last Friday. It began with an interview published on the MyHorryNews.com website.
In that interview, Parker said he felt that he could “contribute a lot to the needs of the county” and that it was “important that we collect all our taxes that are due to the county.”
Shortly thereafter it was reported by MyrtleBeachSC.com that Parker had three unpaid county tax bills from tax years 2012, 2017 and 2018. That information is public information available on the horrycounty.org website.
One would expect someone running for public office, especially an office that deals with county taxes and a person who is a certified public accountant by trade, would double check to make sure there are no skeletons in their closet.
There are additional problems with the interview. Parker announced he is running for auditor yet it is the treasurer, not the auditor, who is responsible for collecting taxes. He wouldn’t be involved in that end of the county tax structure so why mention it in an interview?
Asked by the reporter what offices he was qualified to run for, Parker said both treasurer and auditor.
Parker said he chose to run for auditor because county treasurer Angie Jones is in her first term in office and “they haven’t given her a good chance to sort of see what she can do.”
Jones, in her two years in office, has done more to institute initiatives to make the office more taxpayer friendly and improve the effectiveness of her employees than has been done in the entire 34 previous years that I have lived in this county and observed county government. And she has accomplished this while often being fought by entrenched interests of the former county administrator and his minions.
Even a cursory attempt at familiarization with what Jones has accomplished would have told Parker not to make such a statement.
Parker reportedly declined to offer comment to the reporter on auditor Lois Eargle’s handling of her office during her nearly seven terms in office. Instead he said, if elected, he would have “his staff” (presumably his staff from his current accounting office) do its own assessment of the office. Another foolish statement!
Eargle has been instrumental in gaining tax revenue for the county during her tenure.
Two quick examples – Eargle led an initiative for reduction of taxes on boats and airplanes thereby bringing many more into docks and airports in the county resulting in an overall rise of tax revenue from those sources. She has maintained the billing of personal property tax locally rather than turning it over to the state Department of Revenue, as many S.C. counties have done, which would have resulted in a significant reduction of revenue received from that source for the county.
Parker said he is both and accountant and an auditor in his private practice. But, that is not the type of auditing that is done in the county auditor’s office, nor does it qualify his staff to assess the performance of the county auditor. The county auditor prepares tax bills in accordance with county and state statutes. Parker’s auditing is of business financial statements and associated records.
The job he is probably most qualified for in county government would be a position in the county Finance Department, which has no elected positions.
I spoke with Parker about his three unpaid personal property tax bills. He said he was not aware of them and that he had paid every tax bill he has received. He said he would go to the county office Monday morning (today) to fix the situation. That is fine and I believe him but it is not an excuse for those bills going unpaid.
As a CPA, Parker prepares tax returns for a number of business and professional persons in the county. Surely he knows one of the taxes that must be paid every year by those types of business entities is personal property taxes on furniture, fixtures and equipment in commercial and/or rental property. So, whether he was billed or not, he knows he owes that type of tax on properties he is involved with. Not seeing or receiving a bill is not an excuse for not paying the tax by a professional accountant.
In my 36 years of watching county politics, I do not recall any other campaign kickoff marred by so many stupid mistakes. From information I have been able to gather, Parker has no professional campaign consultant advising him on the campaign, an omission that probably led to these mistakes. A good consultant would have vetted his personal details and any statements he was going to make to the press, especially in campaign kickoff mode.
Instead, Parker has reportedly gathered an informal ‘steering committee,’ led by former county Republican Party chairman Robert Rabon, to advise him on the campaign.
What this advice, or lack of same, has accomplished so far is to have the candidate make statements to the media that made him look foolish and uninformed, as well as alienating a key bloc of county voters. Foolish statements can be recovered from, if they do not become a pattern in the campaign, but the voter alienation is a bigger problem for Parker’s campaign.
According to numerous conversations I had over the weekend, Parker has already alienated a large number of county employees with his ill-conceived statements about the treasurer and auditor offices. The auditor position is a countywide elected office. History tells us a countywide candidate cannot win election unless he or she has considerable support from the large and influential voting bloc of courthouse and other county employees and once that support is lost, it is almost impossible to regain.
The courthouse crowd and county employees generally formed the base of support for Johnny Gardner’s upset last year of incumbent council chairman Mark Lazarus. The courthouse crowd was generally against a Lazarus reelection because of his close association with former county administrator Chris Eldridge.
Whatever support Lazarus may have maintained among county employees was lost when his campaign consultant, Heather Ammons Crawford, referred to county firefighters as “union thugs” and Lazarus doubled down with his own “thug” comment the next day. Those foolish comments and lack of support from the key county employee voting bloc spelled doom to a Lazarus reelection.
Parker may choose to continue his campaign. He will be facing Eargle. It will be a steep, uphill struggle if he does.
The incumbent auditor announced her decision to seek reelection last Thursday. There is no doubt, she has had strong support from the courthouse crowd especially, as well as county voters in general, through her previous seven campaigns and Parker virtually assured her of the same this time around.