Tag: Johnny Gardner

Primary Election Strategy for Obtaining I-73 Funding

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce propaganda blitz for I-73 funding failed to secure any money for the project in next fiscal year’s state budget.
It is now obvious to all but the Chamber and its cabal cronies that it’s easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than to get funding for I-73.
With all the excess money floating around in Columbia this year from federal Covid relief funds and excess state revenue, this was the year for the Chamber to finally secure some funding to construct at least a portion of I-73.
The thought around the Chamber was, if it couldn’t get I-73 funding in the budget this year, it was never going to get it. The Chamber didn’t get it.
The reality, something the Chamber avoids like the plague, is it’s difficult to convince legislators that a new, 66-mile spur road from I-95 to Briarcliffe is a priority over all the existing roads and bridges in the state that have been ignored for decades.
Over the last six months, the Chamber did its best to put a positive spin the I-73 story.
In late October, the Chamber hosted a press conference featuring Gov. Henry McMaster, Congressman Tom Rice and Rep. Russell Fry where it was predicted the General Assembly would dedicate $300 million to construction of I-73.
The Chamber sent an email chastising Horry County Council for not voting to immediately provide funds for I-73 construction.
The Chamber put on its annual legislative reception extravaganza in Columbia to lobby for funding for I-73.
And none of that worked. The General Assembly did not earmark any funds for I-73 construction.

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Lazarus Promises to Listen to Voters, Gardner Already Has

Mark Lazarus is trying to convince voters he has undergone a character metamorphosis and is now running for county council chairman with a changed personality.
The latest is the ‘Lazarus is Listening Tour’ announced in a mailer sent to voters around the county. Putting ‘Lazarus listens’ together is one of the great oxymorons of Horry County political history.
Lazarus lost the chairmanship four years ago precisely because he didn’t listen to the voters or the many employees of county government, especially the public safety personnel.
Lazarus was not listening to the citizens about road problems that needed fixing throughout the county. He was intent on bowing to his Myrtle Beach Chamber pals and giving $40 million annually, from the county’s hospitality tax revenue, to the construction of Interstate 73 while citizens were asking for improvements on the ‘farm to market roads’, such as Hwy 90 and Hwy 905, that serve so many residents.
Lazarus was not listening to the demands of taxpayers for impact fees on new development, even though an advisory referendum showed 3 in 4 county voters wanted impact fees to help pay for the infrastructure and other services associated with new sub-divisions.
Lazarus was certainly not listening to the police and fire personnel working for the county asking for help with the long hours and low pay they were suffering from.
When challenged about how he was going to address these conditions by police and fire representatives at a community forum in Burgess, Lazarus stormed off the stage and out of the event with “I don’t have to listen to any more of this abuse.”
Lazarus and his then campaign consultant, Rep. Heather Crawford, doubled down on this demonstration that Lazarus ‘does not listen’ by calling the police and fire personnel asking the challenging questions “Thugs.”

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Will Cabal Money Overcome Citizen Interests?

The main story of the 2022 Republican Primary election campaigns in Horry County is going to be one of how the developers and tourist interests of the Myrtle Beach cabal pour money into campaigns of their preferred candidates in hopes those candidates will defeat the candidates who represent the interests of the citizens first.
Several stories have been written in local media over the past few days detailing donors to cabal favored candidates Jenna Dukes, Mark Lazarus and Carla Schuessler.
Dukes is challenging Harold Worley in Horry County District 1. Worley is the longest serving member on county council and one whose signature is to often urge the council to “Do the right thing for the people of Horry County.”
Lazarus, a former Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce board president, is challenging Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner, who took the chairmanship from Lazarus four years ago, a defeat that Lazarus has yet to get over.
Schuessler, a former Chamber board president, is vying with Conway businessman John Cassidy in the new House District 61 seat in the county.
All three cabal candidates, Dukes, Lazarus and Schuessler were the recipients of the campaign donation largesse of cabal members and associates in the development and tourism industries as the stories in local media documented.
Dukes and Lazarus tried to paint their fundraising as coming from a broad range of donors who are anxious for change from the respective incumbents they are running against. In neither case is that narrative true. Neither has support that extends beyond the limited numbers of cabal members who can’t get their own way with Worley and Gardner and want them replaced.

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Lazarus Campaign Kickoff Attempts to Rewrite History

Mark Lazarus officially kicked off his campaign to recapture the chairmanship of Horry County Council Thursday night surrounded by his friends – Myrtle Beach Chamber and Grand Strand Business Alliance members as well as other members of the local cabal.
From the talking point clips and quotes attributed to Lazarus in local media over the last several days, it is obvious Lazarus is trying to rewrite the history of his years as chairman from 2013-2018.
Lazarus pledged to get county government ‘back on track’ when the only track it has left was the autocracy track the Lazarus years led it down toward funding I-73 and other initiatives to benefit special interests.
The most comical quote I have seen attributed to Lazarus is his promise of “investing in police services”, something he absolutely refused to do when chairman. There was a reason the police and fire organizations of Horry County endorsed current Chairman Johnny Gardner four years ago, in his run against Lazarus, and it wasn’t because Lazarus did anything to improve their lives.
The most memorable quote by Lazarus in the 2018 campaign was when he called the public safety personnel of the county “Thugs” late in the campaign because they asked him difficult questions about how they were treated at a campaign event.
In fact, Lazarus was not popular with the county employees in general as he, in coordination with former administrator Chris Eldridge, treated county employees as ‘serfs’ subject to the whims of the ruling duo.

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Chamber Political Brochure Explodes into Fight with Horry County and Voters

You have to give Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO Karen Riordan credit, if there’s a way to make relations with Horry County Council members worse than they already are, she will find it.
Last week saw the Chamber send out a mail piece full of information that ranged from misleading to totally false. In today’s lexicon – Fake News
Members of county council took immediate offense at Riordan and Chamber Government Liaison Jimmy Gray, the two Chamber officials hired to replace the work of Brad Dean after Dean resigned from the Chamber and who were, reportedly, responsible for the mailer’s contents.
County council member Harold Worley led a 25-minute discussion about the real facts versus the fictitious Chamber version of the I-73 funding debate, at the end of last week’s regular meeting.
“The only thing in the Chamber brochure that was true was the one-lane on 501,” Worley said. “Everything else was a lie.”
The message in the brochure was, “Tell Horry County Council it’s time to fund I-73.”
And Riordan and her cabal minions are using these tactics to pressure county council into committing funding for Interstate 73. How’s that going?
This situation would never have happened under the watch of former Chamber CEO Brad Dean!
The two biggest whoppers in the brochure:
“We (Myrtle Beach) were one lane away from being cut off. The construction of Interstate 73 would ensure this never happens again.”
And
“Funding from the federal, state and local governments is lined up.”
Two quick responses:

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Developers, I-73 and a Déjà Vu Lazarus Candidacy

Recently Horry County Council unanimously approved changes to development density allowed in the Commercial Forest Agriculture zoning classification and former county chairman Mark Lazarus began calling developers looking for support for another run at county chairman.
Lazarus, then the incumbent, lost the 2018 county chairman race to Johnny Gardner in what was one of the biggest upsets in Horry County political history. And he lost it on his own merits, or maybe demerits, is a better term.
Lazarus is the former chairman most allied with the development community in the history of county government. As chairman, Lazarus convinced county council to purchase approximately 3,700 acres of undevelopable wetlands in the Carolina Forest area, at a cost of approximately $12 million taxpayer dollars, paid to a well-known Richmond, Va. developer. The excuse was the county needed to establish a wetlands mitigation bank for future road projects.
Since leaving office on January 1, 2019, Lazarus has been busy lobbying council members for a number of re-zonings of CFA land, especially in the Hwy 90 area.
I don’t know if Lazarus believes he can alter the changes to CFA density if he wins back the county chairman seat, but, considering the unanimous vote by council to change CFA density allowance and continuing pressure from the citizens to reject questionable development, it is not possible that he can.
After Gardner took over the chairman seat, he was able to convince council to institute impact fees on new development to help pay for the cost of new infrastructure and other capital needs associated with that development. Following the discussion among council members during its last meeting, those fees will be expanded to transportation and stormwater impact fees in the coming fiscal year to help pay for much needed upgrades to roads such as 90, 905. 701 and 9 and associated flooding mitigation efforts.
Lazarus preferred to raise property taxes and existing county fees, including leading the passage of the largest single property tax increase in county history in 2015, rather than promote an impact fee law counter to the wishes of his donors and supporters in the development community.

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Horry County Council Rejects I-73 Funding

By a 6-5 vote, Horry County Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday night, rejected a proposal to dedicate $4.2 million per year for 30 years from hospitality fee revenue to the construction of Interstate 73.
The margin was one vote, but it wasn’t that close. It was a clear demonstration that six members of council are solid in their determination to vote in the interests of the citizens not special interests.
The vote was a clear defeat for council members Johnny Vaught and Dennis DiSabato, the two on council who drank the Chamber Kool-Aid and spearheaded the effort to dedicate funding to I-73. It wasn’t their idea, but Vaught and DiSabato agreed to ‘carry the water’ for the Chamber and its cronies in this latest effort to obtain local funding for the road. They spilled most of that water.
The question now is, have Vaught and DiSabato destroyed any hope for the Chamber to secure local funding for its pet project?
The effort to secure funding for I-73 from countywide hospitality fees has been four and one-half years in the making. It began in Spring 2017 when former council chairman Mark Lazarus convinced county council to remove the sunset provision from the county ordinance establishing hospitality fee collection.
Lazarus next tried to convince council to dedicate the entire approximately $45 million annual revenue from countywide hospitality fees to fund construction of I-73. However, the people were beginning to be heard as their rejection of Lazarus for reelection in 2018 demonstrated, and Lazarus, in his final days in office, was only able to push through authorization for the county to enter into a funding agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation for up to $25 million per year from hospitality fees for I-73 construction.
That funding agreement was immediately challenged by a lawsuit brought by the cities against the county and the agreement was cancelled by county council in late 2019 with no money having ever been sent to SCDOT.
The settlement of that lawsuit included vague language that the county and the cities would work together to try and find alternative means of providing local funding for I-73.
After a break due to the uncertainties of the effects of Covid on local governments, a small group reportedly consisting of Chamber officials, state Rep. Case Brittain, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley and DiSabato began meeting last summer to concoct a new local funding plan for I-73.
The spin at the time was dedicated funding from local governments could be taken to the S. C. General Assembly to lobby for state funds to be appropriated to I-73 construction and that resulting package could be taken to Washington to lobby for federal funds.
That entire concept seems to be upside down logic. Why should local governments be the first to dedicate funding for an interstate highway in an attempt to convince the state and feds they should contribute?

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Horry County Council Members Face Choice on I-73 Funding Resolution – Listen to Voters or Donors?

Horry County Council will vote tonight on a resolution to dedicate funding from locally collected hospitality fees to construction of Interstate 73.
This latest attempt at I-73 funding comes on the heels of a visit last week by Gov. Henry McMaster to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at which the governor announced his proposed funding plan for the road.
The governor proposed a plan that included $795 million from state funds, $430 million from federal funds and $350 million in total funds from Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. None of the funds have been appropriated and the sources are generally unidentified.
The governor could not give promises the funds from the state would be appropriated. The only thing he could do was tell the gathering he would ask the General Assembly to appropriate the funds he recommended.
Additionally, none of the state funds will be spent in Horry County. They will be spent in Dillon and Marion counties, according to the governor’s plan. Horry County residents are expected to fund construction of I-73 within the county on their own.
Information from the S. C. Department of Transportation is there are no funds currently available for construction of a new highway. To further complicate the funding problem, the state is on notice from the U. S. Department of Transportation that it must upgrade Interstate 95 from the North Carolina border to the Georgia border. Included in the requirements from the federal government are additional lanes and bridge repair/replacement, all of which are extremely costly items.
SCDOT said the I-95 improvements are the number one project for the agency since failure to meet the federal requirements would cost the state federal highway funds.
After the governor’s visit, the Horry County Administration Committee held a special meeting, called by committee chairman Johnny Vaught, to approve the resolution the council will vote on tonight.
The obvious question for county council tonight is, with 77% of the governor’s proposed funding for Interstate 73 (the state and federal portions) unidentified and unappropriated, and neither Myrtle Beach nor North Myrtle Beach to date having committed funds, why the rush for the county to pass its resolution?
Despite an alleged Chamber poll, which supposedly said 82% of 405 statewide voters responding supported construction of I-73. The internals of the poll have never been released by the Chamber and there is significant reason to believe no such poll exists because it is very difficult to find any voters in Horry County who support spending local raised tax revenue to build the road.
The lack of voter support was demonstrated by a reader poll conducted by a local media outlet recently which showed 67% of those responding did not want local tax funds to be spent on I-73 construction.

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Reasons Behind Russell Fry’s Deafening Silence on I-73 Funding Controversy

(The above picture shows voter response to a request to raise their hands to show support for I-73)

State Rep. Russell Fry, an announced candidate in the upcoming SC 7th Congressional District Republican primary, has been deafeningly silent during the last week’s controversy over funding for the Interstate 73 project.
When Fry announced his candidacy, he said, like incumbent Congressman Tom Rice, he strongly supported the construction of I-73.
During the last week, we have seen an eruption of controversy surrounding a promised visit tomorrow by Governor Henry McMaster to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce headquarters to make an important announcement on I-73.
First, it was reported by local media that McMaster would announce he was giving $300 million to the I-73 project. Local politicians who want Chamber associated funding for their campaigns such as, county council members Johnny Vaught and Dennis DiSabato, state Rep. Case Brittain, state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and Rice himself, quickly committed to attending McMaster’s Chamber announcement. All praised McMaster for committing money to I-73. Fry was conspicuous by his silence.
Vaught and DiSabato went one step further. After a DiSabato authored resolution for the county to dedicate $4.2 million per year for 30 years to I-73 was deferred until October 26th by the county’s Administration Committee, which is chaired by Vaught, a special meeting of the committee was called by Vaught for this coming Tuesday to again attempt to pass the resolution. The excuse given for the special called meeting was with the governor bringing $300 million for I-73, it was time for the county to step up with local funding for the road.
However, the two most important people for state appropriations and local appropriations for I-73, Speaker of the House Jay Lucas and County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner, will not be at the Chamber/McMaster event, according to sources I have spoken to.
There are additional problems with the above narrative. The governor cannot commit any funding for I-73. The best he can do is request the SC General Assembly to do so. The county committee can only recommend the entire county council vote to approve funding for I-73.
The $300 million announced is $200 million short of the $500 million a group, reportedly consisting of Brittain, the Chamber, DiSabato and city mayors Brenda Bethune and Marilyn Hatley, said they would seek from the state two weeks ago. The group also requested local governments, primarily the county council along with Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach city councils, to commit a total of $250 million in locally collected tax and fee revenue to I-73. That number is now being reported in media as closer to $180 million.

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Chamber and Governor Mull Press Conference to Announce I-73 Funding with No Funding Approved

The latest effort by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to make construction of Interstate 73 a viable project in the minds of the voters of Horry County took several bizarre twists yesterday.
A brief recap:
In recent weeks, the Chamber has promoted the idea that a mysterious poll of voters in South Carolina (405 in all) showed 82% of those responding favored construction of I-73. The actual questions and responses have never been revealed, just questionable results.
The poll announcement was followed by news that Chamber President and CEO Karen Riordan, state Rep. Case Brittain, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune and Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato were working on a $750 million funding package for the I-73 project that included $250 in funding from local governments and $500 million from the state. It was announced that the governments of Horry County, the City of Myrtle Beach and the City of North Myrtle Beach would approve their respective portions of the $250 million funding package by the end of this month.
Monday it was announced that the Horry County Administration Committee would vote the next day on a resolution to dedicate $4.2 million per year, for up to 30 years, to the I-73 project from county hospitality fee revenue. That vote, however, was postponed until at least October 26 after a short executive session by committee members on Tuesday.
Tuesday evening Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner was informed that Gov. Henry McMaster would hold a press conference Monday October 4, 2021, at the Myrtle Beach Chamber offices to announce the state was committing $300 million to I-73 construction. (There was no explanation of why alleged state funding was reduced from the $500 million announced by Brittain to the $300 million over a two-week span.)
Now the bizarre:
According to a number of sources familiar with events, word began to spread from Riordan to local politicians yesterday that the governor would be coming to Myrtle Beach on Monday to make an announcement about I-73 funding.
Unless the state government receives specifically earmarked funds for I-73 from the federal government, the governor cannot order any state agency to spend money on the project. Appropriations must receive voting approval from the General Assembly.
State legislators, from around the state, contacted by Grand Strand Daily, said the news that Gov. McMaster was going to announce funding from the state for I-73 was a surprise since the General Assembly had not approved nor even considered any such appropriation.

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