By Paul Gable
A joint press conference Tuesday morning including Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police and a retired Horry County police officer, Roger Odachowski, President of the South Carolina Professional Fire Fighters Association of the International Association of Fire Fighters and Rob Mullaney, President Horry County Professional Fire Fighters Local 4345 of the IAFF, spoke of the reasons challenger Johnny Gardner has received the endorsement of their respective associations for Horry County Council Chairman.
Canterbury said Gardner’s willingness to sit down with FOP officials and discuss the county’s needs and explore solutions to the problems of understaffing in the police department was an important consideration for the endorsement.
“It is clear to our members that Johnny Gardner is the man to lead council,” said Canterbury. “He cares about this county and its people.”
Canterbury said current council chairman Mark Lazarus had cancelled several meetings for the same type of discussions.
“The only time Lazarus kept an appointment to meet with us was when he was seeking our endorsement,” Canterbury said.
Canterbury said HCPD is approximately 200 patrol officers below what is needed based on the population and area of Horry County.
Odachowski said Horry County Fire Rescue is approximately 230 fire fighters short based on the call volume and national averages for properly manning the county’s 41 fire stations. He said most county fire fighters suffer from fatigue due to 48 hour shifts and the call volume they respond to.
Odachowski spoke of a presentation he made to Horry County Council last winter during public input and the response he received. During the presentation, Odachowski offered solutions available from the IAFF but mispronounced Horry County several times.
“I was offering solutions for the shortages, but Lazarus was too busy correcting me to listen to what I was saying.” Odachowski said.
Gardner’s willingness to sit down and listen to what professional fire fighters said about the county department and its needs was important to Local 4345 when it made its endorsement decision.
“When we met with Johnny Gardner, we knew he was our guy,” said Odachowski. “We need change and we need it now. It’s about the safety of our fire fighters and our citizens. The citizens are being cheated out of quality service because of fatigue.”
What was also interesting about the press conference is that every mainstream media outlet in the county was in attendance. After many years in the media, my conclusion is the mainstream media believes Johnny Gardner is mounting a very serious challenge to incumbent council chairman Mark Lazarus for the Republican nomination for council chair.