By Paul Gable
A recording that Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti used as a centerpiece of evidence for their allegations of wrongdoing by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner proves the allegations were entirely false.
The full recording of the lunch meeting between Gardner, his business partner Luke Barefoot and Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) executives Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele became entered the public arena yesterday.
The recording was supposedly the ‘smoking gun’ that would prove the Eldridge and Carotti tale of, as Eldridge described in an email, “asking for thousands of dollars to be funneled” to Donald Smith is nowhere to be heard.
What the administrator and attorney believed (hoped?) would add credence to their allegations actually proved how entirely false they were.
I listened to the entire one hour and seven minute recording. Generally it reveals a pleasant lunch meeting whose purpose was to familiarize the incoming council chairman with the workings of the EDC, its current efforts to recruit jobs and the uses of its budget.
There is an approximately four minute segment in which Barefoot and Davis discuss the possibility of contracting with Smith for public relations work for the EDC. Davis explained the procedure for submitting a proposal to the EDC and Barefoot said he understood the EDC procedures. Davis said she would be open to receiving a proposal.
At no time was there ever any threat or other effort to compel Davis to do anything and no mention of payment of thousands of dollars to Smith. Gardner said nothing during that segment of the conversation.
Not ones to let little things like facts get in the way of their efforts to discredit Gardner, Carotti authored a five-page memo laying out the case, which relied entirely on hearsay ‘to the best of Carotti’s recollection’, and Eldridge reported an alleged extortion attempt by Gardner to SLED.
On the fifth page of his memo, Carotti noted he had been told “several different versions of what took place and didn’t know what actually had taken place.”
Actually, there is only one version of what took place, that which is recorded, and absolutely nothing took place on that recording as SLED noted in its report. Even a magnifying glass wouldn’t turn up any different conclusion unless you were predisposed to one.
Apparently unwilling to accept the findings of SLED and the Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor decision that “there is no credible evidence of extortion” by either Barefoot or Gardner, council member Dennis DiSabato requested and received a copy of the entire recording that he shared with council members.
The recording was also leaked to a local media outlet – funny how leaks keep happening with this issue.
The entire Gardner affair is reminiscent of what county senior staff pulled on Treasurer Angie Jones when she took office. Jones asked for an additional employee which staff was not willing to provide.
When Jones attempted to assert her rights under the state constitution as an elected official, staff responded with allegations of wrongdoing such as mismanagement of her office, firing office employees and replacing them with relatives and political cronies and leaking documents to the media.
None of the allegations against Jones were true either, but there appears to be a staff pattern of bullying tactics and false allegations to elected officials who were not their choice for office.
Could this be seen as an attempt to subvert the will of the voters? Over 80,000 citizens voted for both Jones and Gardner, but a few staff members appear unwilling to accept the result.
It is now time for council to take action to stop these tactics. A few council members appear to be grasping at straws in order to support the administrator. Those straws are proving very slippery.
There is no chance that some type of whistleblower protection is available for Eldridge and Carotti because hearsay and rumor, the only things used by the two to create their story, are specifically excluded from the whistleblower defense.
Will any council members support the attitude of ‘my mind is made up don’t confuse me with the facts?’
The voters will have long memories of any council member who supports these bullying tactics and the staff members who use them.