Tag: Arrigo Carotti

Council Member Bill Howard Cost His Constituents Two Years in Their Attempt to Prohibit Discharge of Fireworks in Their Neighborhoods

Horry County Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday night, referred Ordinance 155-2021, dealing with the establishment of “Fireworks Free Zones” in the county, back to the county Public Safety Committee for further study before considering third reading of the ordinance.
If the ordinance ever passes third reading, it appears inevitable it will be struck down by state courts because of the legally settled Doctrine of Preemption.
State law, section 23-35-175 (c), states “an owner, a lessee or managing authority of real property may establish a Fireworks Prohibited Zone by (1) filing a Discharge of Fireworks Prohibited Agreement with the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the subject property.”
The Doctrine of Preemption simply stated holds if the law of a higher government authority, in this case S. C. Code sec. 23-35-175(c), preempts the law of a lower government authority, in this case Horry County Ordinance 155-2021, then the law of the lower government authority is declared invalid.
Or, in this case, it appears the procedure for establishing a “Fireworks Prohibited Zone” in sec. 23-35-175(c) of state law preempts the procedure for establishing a “Fireworks Free Zone” in county Ordinance 155-2021.
Why has county attorney Arrigo Carotti not informed council of this probable result during council discussions of the ordinance?
It would seem stopping the ordinance now, since the procedure for fireworks prohibition already exists in state law, would be preferable to passing third reading of the ordinance only to see it struck down in state court after thousands of dollars of taxpayer money is spent trying to defend the indefensible.

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County Staff Puts Council Members in No Win Position with Fireworks and Sexual Predator Ordinances

Horry County Council is currently considering two ordinances that appear to be attempted end runs around state law and with the probability they will both be declared unconstitutional when challenged.
One of those ordinances deals with establishing “fireworks free zones” by resolution of county council “in addition to those designated fireworks prohibited zones” under state law.
The other ordinance states the “County Council desires to protect minors” by adding additional requirements and monitoring for ‘child oriented’ businesses by attempting to root out potential sexual predators before issuing business licenses.
In a county whose politicians profess to be so very “conservative”, these ordinances are vast expansions of governmental regulation into the private sector. And just because a new law is passed, there is no guarantee that less fireworks will be discharged in a given area or children will be more protected from potential predators.
The county doesn’t have the resources to effectively enforce the provisions of either ordinance.
Having ordinances that are unenforceable or illegal drafted and put into the legislative process is a failure on the part of county senior staff.
While council sets policy and staff carries out that policy, staff members are not excused in this process from failing to point out to council what is bad or illegal policy. In the case of these ordinances, we have both bad and illegal policy. Why do we have a county legal staff, for example, if this is not the case?

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County Council a Step Closer to Passing Illegal Fireworks Prohibition Ordinance

Horry County Council passed second reading of a proposed ordinance that would allow council to restrict the use of fireworks in zones of their choosing in direct violation of state law.
One would think a county government currently in the process of refunding over one million dollars of illegally collected stormwater fees would pay close attention to what it can and what it can’t do with regard to state law.
Evidently not!
Because one thing is certain, the proposed ordinance, which would allow county council by resolution to establish fireworks prohibited zones in the unincorporated areas of the county, is in direct violation of state law.
The proposed ordinance, as written, directly contravenes both the spirit and letter of state law.
The proposed ordinance, 155-2021, sub-section c states: “County No Fireworks Areas shall be any geographic location, as determined by County Council, wherein the prohibition against fireworks under this section is deemed appropriate. Such areas may be designated only by Resolution of County Council and must state with adequate specificity the area encompassed as to be readily identifiable by the general public and Horry County officials and employees.”
State law, section 23-35-175 (C) states “an owner, a lessee or managing authority of real property may establish a Fireworks Prohibited Zone by (1) filing a Discharge of Fireworks Prohibited Agreement with the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the subject property.”

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Gagging of Al Allen Points to Deeper Issues in County

Last week’s premature adjournment of the county council meeting in order to gag council member Al Allen’s requested discussion of county legal fees allowed deeper issues inside the government and county to come to the surface.
A simple request from Allen for county legal fees paid to outside attorneys has been blown up into a supposed politically motivated conspiracy, according to a report in a local media outlet. Two “county officials” speaking on conditions of anonymity, according to the story, put forth a theory alleging a plot to fire County Administrator Steve Gosnell and County Attorney Arrigo Carotti was the reason for Allen’s request.
And make no mistake, the information Allen requested and which was ultimately provided to Allen, other council members (although many of those other members saw the information well before it was produced to Allen) and the media is definitely public information.
According to statements in local media, County Attorney Arrigo Carotti brought Allen’s request for the information on legal fees to council member Johnny Vaught. The excuse Vaught gave to the media was Carotti did that because the legal department budget falls within the oversight of the county Administration Committee of which Vaught is chairman.
Vaught told media he had concern that county legal strategies could be discussed and he didn’t want that sensitive information to become public. I would submit that type of information is already public.
If someone wants to assess legal strategy in any lawsuit, they can go online to the judicial records to read the complaint, response, motions and responses, depositions and view the exhibits associated with the case. All of that information becomes open to the public the minute it is filed with the court. A person is going to gain a lot more information about legal strategy from those documents than from records of how much in legal fees was paid and to whom it was paid.
Vaught’s entire premise that he was attempting to protect privileged information is ridiculous. But the ensuing rhetoric which evolved around the issue and the players involved point to deeper intent.
The real story is the one involving those who said the information requested by Allen should not be released publicly and who created a false narrative in an attempt to publicly embarrass Allen and, later, council Chairman Johnny Gardner.

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DiSabato Motion Ends County Council Meeting Prior to Discussion of Legal Fees

Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato moved to adjourn council’s regular meeting last night before a discussion of county legal fees by council could take place. Council agenda listed the request for the discussion was initiated by council member Al Allen.
There is no question that a discussion of how much and to who the county pays fees for outside attorney assistance is public information. In a lawsuit two years ago, the county agreed that disclosure of legal fees ”is not legally privileged, is not exempt from disclosure under FOIA, and that it is important to the public interest that this information be available to the citizens and taxpayers of Horry County.”
Council voted 8-4 to adjourn the meeting with chairman Johnny Gardner and council members Allen, Harold Worley and Tyler Servant voting No.
Prematurely ending the meeting was the only parliamentary maneuver available to keep discussion of county legal fees from taking place in the meeting. Coming as it did immediately prior to the scheduled discussion makes it appear that DiSabato’s erratic behavior in bringing the motion was prompted by an ulterior motive for not wanting the discussion to take place publicly from the council dais.
This is not the first time DiSabato has exhibited erratic behavior with respect to issues associated with the county legal department.
In December 2018, county attorney Arrigo Carotti authored a five-page memorandum attempting to allege that then council chairmen elect Johnny Gardner had acted in an unethical manner with respect to a discussion held with the executive director of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.
The memo was quickly leaked to a Columbia media outlet who reported the allegations.
The memorandum was sent to SLED by then county administrator Chris Eldridge. SLED conducted an investigation into the allegations which completely exonerated Gardner from any wrongdoing.
While the investigation was underway, Carotti sent an email to SLED which appeared to be an attempt to influence how the investigation was being conducted.

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County Committee Stops Attempt to Restrict Gun Rights

The latest attempt to restrict the gun rights of Horry County citizens was stopped by a 3-1 No vote of the county’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday.

The vote defeated a motion by county council member Gary Loftus to send a new ordinance to full county council that would have seriously restricted the gun rights of citizens in the unincorporated areas of the county.

The ordinance, as proposed, would have affected a number of gun clubs being able to hunt on their club grounds as well as restricted citizens from hunting on their private property.

In addition, the ordinance proposed to allow individual council members to establish an overlay on their district to restrict gun use in violation of state law.

If passed, it is distinctly possible that citizens in council districts three and four, for example, could not have fired guns anywhere in the district while citizens in, say, districts ten and eleven would have not been affected at all.

Under provisions of equal application of the law, enumerated in state law as well as the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, such restrictions not applied equally throughout the county would be unconstitutional.

I chose council districts three and four in the above example because, according to numerous sources, council members Loftus and Dennis DiSabato worked closely with county attorney Arrigo Carotti in crafting the proposed ordinance.

This is at least the fifth time this issue has come up in the last eight years. Every time it has been strongly opposed by a number of citizens and in council votes.

Last year, local radio talk show host Chad Caton told council it should concentrate on local needs such as infrastructure rather than attempting to infringe on 2nd Amendment rights.

This is doubly true now. The proposed ordinance was so removed from reality to make one wonder why it was even attempted.

The Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, among the most liberal in the nation, recently struck down a California law restricting the size of ammunition magazines. With the inevitable addition of Amy Coney Barrett on the U. S. Supreme Court, there will be a solid conservative 6-3 vote against any attempt to infringe on the rights outlined in the 2nd Amendment.

SkyDive Myrtle Beach Lawsuit Advances to Deposition Stage

After being delayed for six months due to Covid 19 restrictions, depositions in the lawsuit SkyDive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County et al will begin September 30, 2020.

The lawsuit evolved from the county shutting down operations of SDMB and evicting them from the North Myrtle Beach airport using a Director’s Report from the FAA in which 112 alleged safety violations played a large part in the FAA claiming SDMB operations at Grand Strand Airport were unsafe.

This is where things get tricky. The county used an informal means of reporting the alleged safety violations, a county generated form called an “Unusual Incident Report”.

When responding to a Freedom of Information Request for documentation associated with these reports, the county responded by sending the Unusual Incident Reports but no supporting documentation.

A short memorandum from county attorney Arrigo Carotti included with the FOIA response said, “These records are provided in an abundance of caution, in that each may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.”

In other words, the county reported SDMB had committed 112 safety violations without ever investigating any, according to Carotti’s memo.

When a FOIA request for documentation on the 112 alleged safety violations was sent to the FAA, the response from Thomas A Winston, Manager Flight Standards Division, Southern Region of the FAA was, “You requested information regarding 112 allegations of safety violations used to make the table in the Director’s Report dated October 7, 2015 by Randall Fiertz. We searched our files maintained in the South Carolina Flight Standards District Office. We could not find any documents responsive to your request.”

The FAA had no documents supporting any of the 112 alleged safety violations. Anytime a suspected safety violation has taken place at an FAA regulated airport, a Mandatory Occurrence Report is supposed to be filed with the FAA and entered into the CEDAR (Comprehensive Electronic Data Analysis and Reporting) system. . No MORs were found in the FAA system with respect to the alleged violations by SDMB.

County Council Refused to Discuss Extension of Emergency Ordinance

Using a parliamentary ruse that was erroneous, a majority of Horry County Council voted to have no discussion before extending, for 60 more days, the emergency ordinance controlling countywide requirements and restrictions with respect to the ongoing Covid 19 situation.

Council member Al Allen requested the item calling for an extension of the emergency ordinance be moved from the consent agenda, where there is no discussion on any item before a vote, to a discussion item, where discussion of the extension would have occurred before a vote.

Immediately upon Allen making the request the ruse began. Council member Dennis DiSabato called a point of order stating that changing the agenda in such a matter requires a two-thirds majority vote of council.

County attorney Arrigo Carotti, who also acts as council’s parliamentarian, confirmed to council that this was a requirement.

Subsequent to Carotti’s input, a vote was held in which a motion to move the item to discussion failed by a 5-7 vote with the Deep Six (DiSabato, Harold Worley, Bill Howard, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus and Tyler Servant) plus Orton Bellamy voting no.

The entire episode appeared to be orchestrated. I don’t believe DiSabato is sharp enough to come up with the objection he raised on his own and Carotti was too quickly on his feet to support DiSabato’s objection.

Orchestrated or not, voting on any council member’s request to move an item from the consent agenda to the regular, or discussion, agenda is counter to over 20 years of precedent on the council dais.

I have covered many county council meetings in the last two decades since the use of a consent agenda came into being under Chad Prosser’s term as chairman. Prosser initiated the consent agenda to accommodate the many rezoning requests of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s by not having each read and considered separately when the reading did not require public review.

Numerous times over that span, a council member has requested an item be moved from consent agenda to a discussion item. The move was always made by the chairman without a vote. I cannot recall one instance in which the change was even questioned.

First Anniversary of the Plot to Smear Council Chairman Johnny Gardner

Exactly one year ago today former county administrator Chris Eldridge, former council chairman Mark Lazarus and county attorney Arrigo Carotti went public with a plot to attempt to overturn the will of the voters by smearing incoming county chairman Johnny Gardner on the day of his swearing in.

In the week prior, Carotti had authored a five-page memo, with input from Eldridge and Lazarus, attempting to portray Gardner as being involved in a plot to extort money from the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.

The memo was sent to council members as ‘Attorney Client Privileged’ in an attempt to try and give some official weight to the narrative and, within 12 hours, leaked to a Columbia media outlet to make the story public. The supposed facts in the memo were entirely fictitious.

As soon as the leaked story was published on the internet, complete with a copy of Carotti’s memo, Eldridge sent the memo to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division requesting an investigation.

Within a one day period, the plotters had linked the name ‘Gardner’ to the word ‘extortion’, spread the story statewide and used the publishing of the story as an excuse to contact SLED.

It was an email from Lazarus to Eldridge that first brought SLED into the conversation.

The problem was the story was complete fiction, But that didn’t stop the plotters. The apparent objective was to get Gardner to step aside from the office he had been elected to so that Lazarus could reclaim it. (At the time, apparently unaware of the provisions for filling a vacancy in a county office, they thought the Governor could make an appointment to fill the void and that appointment would be Lazarus who had been defeated by Gardner at the polls.

Within another 24 hours, the entire plot began to fall apart.

Carotti used alleged statements made by Sandy Davis, President and CEO of the MBREDC to both himself and Eldridge as a major source for his narrative, as well as a recording of a lunch meeting between Gardner, Davis and two others.

When contacted by media for comment about the Carotti memo, Davis was quoted responding about the memo, “A lot of it was fabricated.”

Discovery Imminent in Skydive Myrtle Beach Case Remanded to District Court

Discovery requests for production of documents, answers to interrogatories and depositions will go out very shortly in the lawsuit that Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB) filed against Horry County, the Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), Robinson Aviation and numerous individuals associated with those entities.

After hearing arguments by the opposing parties in the case last spring, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed prior decisions by the Fifteenth Circuit Court and S. C. Court of Appeals and remanded that case back to district court for trial.

In October 2015, Horry County government evicted Skydive Myrtle Beach from Grand Strand Airport using a 73 page Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Director’s Determination as justification. Much of the Director’s Determination report was based on 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB.

The alleged safety violations were recorded on a form generated by the HCDA, called an “Unusual Incident Report”. They are one page reports signed either by HCDA staff members or Robinson Aviation personnel. In one case, five alleged violations were reported by letter to the FAA from former HCDA Director Pat Apone.

No record of any action, other than the filling out of these forms, by either HCDA or Robinson Aviation, the contracted tower operator at Grand Strand Airport, was taken. It appears the forms were created to establish a paper record of alleged safety violations with no backup investigations to support the allegations.

These forms were the ones county attorney Arrigo Carotti provided in response to an FOIA request. Along with that response was a cover letter by Carotti which stated in part, “These records are provided in an abundance of caution, in that each may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.”

On at least three occasions since the Director’s Determination was published, the FAA has admitted in email correspondence regarding Freedom of Information Act requests that it has no documentation with respect to investigations, fines or other information on the alleged 112 violations.