By Paul Gable
Nothing is ever simple and straightforward when it involves the Horry County Solid Waste Authority (HCSWA) Board of Directors.
Last Tuesday, Horry County Council voted to appoint two members to the HCSWA board from among three nominated candidates. Two of the candidates, current board chairman Pam Creech and vice chairman Norfleet Jones, were incumbents. Candidate Sam Johnson was the outsider in the voting.
Creech was reelected by a majority of council members. However, Johnson and Jones tied in two successive votes with six each. After the first vote, Creech was named to remain on the board by council chairman Mark Lazarus who proceeded to hold a second ballot with just Jones and Johnson competing for one opening, against the advice of Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.
Jones and Johnson tied with six votes each on both ballots.
Lazarus announced the second opening on the HCSWA board would be filled by council vote during council’s regular May 16, 2017 meeting. However, Lazarus stated nominations for the second position would remain open adding an additional question mark to the process.
The voting, however, only showed minor problems compared to what transpired before the vote.
On April 28, 2017, Esther Murphy, HCSWA’s Director of Recycling and Corporate Affairs sent an email to Horry County Council Clerk Pat Hartley with copies to all 12 members of county council as well as HCSWA Executive Director Danny Knight, Creech and Jones.
The email began, “Board member Norfleet Jones asked that we contact you regarding his term on the Solid Waste Authority Board, which ends on June 30, 2017. Mr. Jones indicated he would be completing his first term and would like to be reappointed to the Board for a second term…”
The email went on to list a number of qualifications Jones allegedly brings as a past board member and current candidate. The email appears to be campaigning for the re-election of Jones to the HCSWA board.
Read the entire email below:
“From: Esther Murphy <email@example.com>
Date: April 28, 2017 at 3:14:50 PM EDT
To: ‘Pat Hartley’ <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: <Chairman@horrycounty.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, ‘Danny Knight’ <email@example.com>, Pam Creech <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Norfleet Jones <email@example.com>
Subject: Norfleet Jones Board Term
Good Afternoon Ms. Hartley,
Board Member Norfleet Jones asked that we contact you regarding his term on the Solid Waste Authority Board, which ends on June 30, 2017. Mr. Jones indicated he would be completing his first term and would like to be reappointed to the Board for a second term. Mr. Jones has developed a knowledge and history of the Solid Waste Authority which has been especially beneficial when dealing with waste diversion issues. He has dedicated many hours to touring various facilities to obtain extensive knowledge on waste diversion programs. Mr. Jones feels he would be a tremendous asset to the Solid Waste Authority Board as they move forward with many significant decisions in the next four years.
Please feel free to contact Mr. Jones at 843-361-2277 should you require any additional information or have any questions.
Esther M. Murphy
Director of Recycling & Corporate Affairs
Horry County Solid Waste Authority, Inc.”
The email clearly shows it was sent at 3:14 p.m. on Friday April 28, 2017, during normal working hours, by an employee of the HCSWA at the specific request of the HCSWA board vice chair and candidate Jones. It was sent from an official HCSWA email address to official Horry County Council member email addresses.
All HCSWA board members as well as executive director Knight are public officials subject to the ethics laws of South Carolina and the jurisdiction of the S.C. State Ethics Commission. Each must file a Statement of Economic Interests each year with the ethics commission.
Sec. 8-13-765 (A) of the S.C. Code of Laws clearly states, “No person may use government personnel, equipment, materials or an office building in an election campaign.”
Note – the law specifically states “election” campaign, not primary election, general election, special election or any other specific type of election, but, rather, any type of election. The vote by Horry County Council was clearly an election to place two individuals on the HCSWA board.
Therefore, Jones’ request that the email be sent by Murphy to county council members appears to be a clear ethics violation.
It can also be argued, as board vice chair directing an authority employee to send the email, Jones apparently violated Sec. 8-13-700 (A), “No public official, public member, or public employee may knowingly use his official office, membership, or employment to obtain an economic interest for himself…”
Jones, as do all HCSWA board members, draws a small stipend plus mileage and expenses for attending board meetings plus takes trips to conferences and for other purposes around the U.S. at the expense of public dollars, both apparent “economic interests” for Jones.
Incidentally, one of those trips included one week in summer 2015 to Cape Cod, MA (the height of the tourist season and prices on this Massachusetts peninsula) studying the placing of garbage in multi-colored paper bags, a questionable purpose at best, but paid for by the citizens of Horry County.
HCSWA board members may be elected to two consecutive four year terms on the board before they must take a break from the board before being appointed again.
Jones has served three terms on the HCSWA board – two consecutive terms with a one-year break before being elected to his current term.
The primary mission of the HCSWA board is to dispose of Horry County generated waste efficiently and to extend the life of the county landfill to the greatest extent possible.
During his service on the board, Jones strongly advocated for flow control (requiring all waste generated in Horry County to be disposed at the county landfill, thereby shortening the life of the landfill); opposed the removal of construction and demolition waste from flow control requirements, again shortening the life of the landfill; the payment of over $1 million in lobbying fees in a 12 month period in order to fight opposition to flow control at the state and local level and supported the current recycling deal with Charleston County, which has experienced many flaws during its 20 months in effect.
The apparent ethics violations combined with these questionable stances makes one wonder how six council members supported Jones through two rounds of voting.