County Attorney Reverses Stance on Eldridge Agreement Release

One day after denying Freedom of Information requests for the release of the termination agreement with former county administrator Chris Eldridge, Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti honored those requests.

What changed in 24 hours? Absolutely nothing!

Carotti tried to lay blame for the initial denial of release of the agreement on a claim that is was “confidential.”

This claim apparently rose from a “non-disclosure” clause that was included in the document.

The non-disclosure clause was never discussed in negotiations with the attorney representing Eldridge in the matter, according to council Chairman Johnny Gardner. Gardner said council was told it was a standard clause the county’s Human Resources department adds to this type of agreement.

But, the clause is illegal under state law. It not only violates the state Freedom of Information Act, but also violates state statutes with respect to public contracts and the expenditure of public funds. The clause also attempted to infringe on the First Amendment protections of free speech by limiting what council members could say about the agreement.

The termination agreement with Eldridge is a public contract. The severance package for Eldridge, agreed to by council, will be paid from public funds. State statutes specifically require public disclosure of such contracts and payments.

Carotti also claimed in an email to council members that he reached out to Eldridge’s attorney to see if Eldridge would agree to public disclosure of the document. Carotti claimed he received written permission from Eldridge’s attorney and released the document at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Let’s explore those statements.

Carotti claims to need approval from Eldridge’s attorney to disclose the agreement due to a ‘boilerplate’ clause in the contract that was never part of the negotiations. Rather, the clause was put into the contract illegally by the county’s HR department and then used to initially deny public access to the agreement.

Orchestrated Attack on Horry County School Board

Since early last month when the Horry County Schools Board of Education picked First Floor Energy Positive to build five new schools, there has been an orchestrated attack to denigrate that decision.

Much has been made of the fact that the First Floor proposals were over the initial budget while little has been said about all three finalists submitting proposals over budget.

Several news articles have said that the school board ignored the advice of a paid consultant, but never mentioned that consultant was hired by the board’s attorneys to answer technical questions only and not to make recommendations about the awarding of the contracts.

Those articles were quick to point out that M.B. Kahn was the only one of the three finalists whose proposal was ‘within striking range’ of the initial budget.

The news media basically got fed part of the story and ran with it.

These were not design-bid-build projects where the contract design generally goes to the lowest bidder. These were design-build proposals where the best, most complete proposal gets the contract as long as the cost is in the ballpark of the others.

Many other allegations of ‘misinformation’ are being circulated, even though those circulating them can be seen to have some ties, past and/or present, to one of the unsuccessful proposers.

However, First Floor Energy Positive was the only proposer who demonstrated the ability to deliver the schools on time.

In addition, several sources familiar with the selection committee process said there are things First Floor included in their proposals, that the others did not, which helped the selection committee understand what they were getting and, more importantly, were requirements of the Request for Proposal and SC law.

And, First Floor Energy Positive is the only proposer of the three finalists to have successfully built energy positive schools that are raved about by the North Carolina school districts in which they are located.

Punishing Citizens for FOIA Requests

The S.C. House has possibly outdone even itself with a bill that would punish citizens for making FOIA requests.

H.3191 is this beauty and it has already passed from the House to the Senate in its progress to becoming law.

Provisions in the law would allow public agencies to take legal action against citizens who make “overly broad” or “unduly burdensome” requests for public records.

S.C. Ethics Reform? – Don’t Bet On It

The South Carolina Commission on Ethics Reform, appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley late last year, released its recommendations to tighten state ethics laws Monday.

Some of the recommendations should be considered no-brainers, such as: (1) Disclosing all private sources of income, and identifying all “fiduciary” positions, or positions of trust, held, whether compensated or uncompensated; (2) banning leadership PAC’s; (3) expanding the definition of lobbyists and lobbyists principals and increasing their annual fee and (4) strengthening public corruption laws.

It would seem that number (1) with regard to sources of income would be the most important. From outside interests of lawmakers and other public officials corruption generally rises. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for that provision to become law.

No Freedom of Information in S.C.

Despite the state freedom of information law requiring public records be released to persons requesting them at the “lowest possible cost,” such is hardly ever the case in South Carolina.

Public agencies whose ethically challenged politicians and appointed public officials excel in backroom deals, conflicts of interest and downright gouging of the public purse are not about to turn over information to the public that could possibly shed light on these activities.

Earlier this year, when S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis tried to get investment records from the S.C. Retirement Systems Investment Commission, of which Loftis is a commissioner, the good ole boys tried to get him thrown off the commission board.

Why All the Secrecy

Several days ago, we ran a story about how South Carolina ranks dead last among the 50 states for freedom of information access to government information. Thursday night, we learned that Horry County is attempting to rank at the bottom of the state’s 46 counties for public disclosure of information about its actions.

Horry County Council voted 7-2 Thursday night to pass first reading of an ordinance that would allow the issuance of $8 million of general obligation debt while refusing to publicly state what the money will be used for. Council members Harold Worley and Marion Foxworth voted no on the ordinance while members Brent Schulz, Paul Price and Paul Prince were not present at the meeting.

This vote took place during the second specially called council meeting in three days, both dedicated to executive sessions on a Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation initiative called “Project Blue.”

SC Ranks Worst in Freedom of Information

SC Ranks Worst in Freedom of Information

South Carolina continues to stand out in the negative as it ranked dead last among the 50 states in access to public government information in a study done by the Center for Public Integrity.

This comes on top of a ranking, by the same organization, of 45 out of 50 for public corruption risk several months ago.

None of the 50 states received an A as Connecticut ranked number one with a B+. Nearly half, 23 out of 50, received an F for freedom of information. In dealings we have had with freedom of information at the federal level, it’s hard to imagine the federal government would receive a grade above F also.