Tag: Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce

Richardson Officially Kicks Off Congressional Campaign to Enthusiastic Crowd

Horry County School Board Chairman Ken Richardson Thursday night officially kicked off his campaign to unseat Tom Rice from the S. C. 7th Congressional seat at Radd Dew’s BBQ in Aynor.
Richardson announced he was a candidate early in the year and has spoken to 63 groups throughout the district, by his count, before his official kickoff. But, Thursday night saw Richardson host approximately 350 people, including a number of elected officials, to his official kickoff event. The crowd extended from the auditorium of the former school, in which the restaurant is located, out into the hallway behind the auditorium when Richardson spoke.
The people who attended the Richardson event were virtually all from west of the Intracoastal Waterway in Horry County although there was a sprinkling of attendees who drove from towns in the other seven counties in the district.
Virtually all of the attendees voted for Donald Trump in 2020, there was plenty of Trump attire in the crowd. Virtually all voted for Tom Rice in 2020. After hearing Richardson’s speech, I believe everybody at last night’s event will vote for Richardson in 2022.
The east-west divide, bounded by the waterway, among voters in Horry County and the 7th Congressional District in general was readily apparent in the crowd.
Those along the coast, where the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is most influential, will support Rice in the upcoming primary. If it becomes apparent Rice is not regaining lost support among the voters, the Chamber crowd will probably opt for their number one Rice substitute Russell Fry.
The remainder of the district west of the waterway, where approximately 650,000 of the district’s approximately 750,000 citizens reside, is ripe for the taking by a candidate who speaks the people’s language.
In political terms, that language is one that respects individual liberty, expects limited government interference in their lives, wants to eliminate wasteful government spending on boondoggle projects and has strong ties to their local community.
Richardson asked two very interesting questions of the crowd. He asked for a show of hands of people who want their locally collected tax dollars to be spent on local roads and infrastructure. Virtually every hand in the crowd was raised.

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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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Shell Game Continues for I-73 Funding

The Horry County Administration Committee will vote today on a resolution dedicating a portion of annual hospitality fee collections to funding Interstate 73 construction within Horry County.
The effort to commit county dollars to Interstate 73 is being heavily pushed by county council member Dennis DiSabato.
A member of the Infrastructure and Regulation Committee, DiSabato failed to get the resolution on last month’s I&R Committee agenda. DiSabato received a much more sympathetic result from Admin Committee chairman Johnny Vaught after approaching Vaught on including the resolution on the Admin Committee agenda.
Regardless of the vote from the Admin Committee, a positive vote is expected, the resolution will go forward to full council for consideration next week. This is the latest ploy in attempting to commit county funding to the Interstate 73 project before any other government entity at the local, state or federal level commits to providing funding for I-73.
The story being spread to other council members is the resolution, if passed, does not commit the county to anything because it’s only a resolution stating the will of the current council to fund the road project.
That is not entirely true. If the resolution is approved by full council, it would be a direction to county staff to include dedication of $4.2 million of hospitality fee revenues to I-73 in next year’s county budget. Once such a dedication is included in the budget, it will be much more difficult to remove that line item during budget discussions and would serve as the impetus to approve a similar appropriation in succeeding budgets especially considering the pressure the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and its cronies continue to bring to local councils to fund I-73.
Last month the Chamber promoted the idea of having local governments in Horry County commit to providing a total of $250 million in funding for I-73. The idea was promoted that such a commitment from governments in Horry County could then be taken to the state government with a request for an additional $500 million in state funding for the project. The combined $750 million in commitments would then be taken to the federal government to request funding to complete the project.
Current estimates to complete construction of I-73 from its connection with SC-22 to connection with I-95 in Dillon run in the $1.5-2 billion range.
State and federal funding for the project remain highly questionable. The state government recently committed hundreds of millions of dollars received from the federal government in Covid relief funds to expanding Interstate 26 to six lanes between Charleston and Columbia. To date, not one dime of that money has been committed to construction of I-73.

Another Suspicious Poll from MBACC Alleges Support for I-73

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is up to its old tricks by again trying to convince local citizens that there is widespread support for the construction of Interstate 73.
Two days ago, the Chamber issued a press release and an eight-page document supposedly reporting the results of a poll conducted in July 2021 on I-73.
The document stated that 79 percent of 405 registered voters responding from across the state supported I-73. It also stated that 82 percent of an unspecified number of voters, included in the overall 405 number, from the 7th Congressional District supported I-73.
These reported results are in line with another supposed poll the Chamber said was conducted two years ago. The results from that poll supposedly said that of 1,774 respondents to a poll on I-73, 74.6 percent of the respondents favored the project.
Two years ago, I called B— S—- on the 2019 supposed poll and I submit the same sentiment applies to these most recent reported results.
The latest supposed poll results come at a time when the newest brainstorm, as reported in local media, to keep some life in the I-73 project is to have the local city and the county governments pledge by resolution a total of $250 million toward construction of I-73.
Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune strongly supported local funding from the city, even though the city recently cancelled health insurance coverage promised to retired city workers and police manning is down while young women apparently can be snatched off the street in mid-afternoon only to have their body turn up in Florence several days later.
However, Horry County Council members are very reluctant to pass even a resolution supporting county funding of I-73, despite concerted effort by council member Dennis DiSabato. It took the county a year to reverse the debacle council had to extract itself from two years ago after a 2018 resolution pushed by then county chairman Mark Lazarus committed the county to providing $25 million per year to SCDOT for the I-73 project.
The idea is that state Rep. Case Brittain can take those pledges to Columbia to ask the state government to pledge $500 million toward the project. Then, with $750 million pledged, maybe Tom Rice can finally get enough out of the federal government to construct the road at least to connection to I-95 in Dillon, a total cost of approximately $1.5-2 billion.
How this is supposed to succeed is anyone’s guess as the best Gov. Henry McMaster could do last spring was get SCDOT to commit $500,000 per year for three years to the I-73 project IF the local governments provided a total match of $500,000 per year.
The reasons to question whether a poll was even conducted are many.

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Politicians for Sale?

Attempting to keep political decisions free from outside influence has been a problem virtually since the beginning of the American Republic.
During a recent county council meeting, a woman told council members she was involved in a group that was studying campaign donors and votes on projects the donors were involved with in order to see if any council members were apparently giving preferential treatment to their donors.
But the question of influence is not restricted to campaign donations.
SC Code 8-13-700 states:
(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, a family member, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated.
(B) No public official, public member, or public employee may make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use his office, membership, or employment to influence a governmental decision in which he, a family member, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated has an economic interest.
A politician who is a principal in a political consulting business that accepts consulting fees from a candidate then endorses or arranges endorsements from other politicians can appear to be using their official office to help the election of a candidate from whom they are accepting fees.
This is the case of Crescent Communications, in which Russell Fry, Heather Crawford and Cam Crawford all participate as campaign consultants. In both 2016 and 2018, Crescent Communications ran the campaigns of local politicians who were later endorsed by one or more of the Crescent Communications crew. Two attorneys I spoke with believe this violates SC Code section 8-13-700 stated above.
Now Fry is running for Congress. Instead of using his associates in Crescent Communications, he has hired Ivory Tusk Consulting, in which fellow SC House member R. J. May is associated. It will be interesting to see what endorsements, if any, Fry obtains in this race and from whom they come.
Influence can be more subtle than money.
As a member of the SC House, Alan Clemmons not only endorsed, but also heavily campaigned for the election of Stephen Goldfinch as senator, the election of Case Brittain as a representative and the reelection of Sen. Luke Rankin.
Clemmons hired Heather Crawford before she was elected to the SC House to do consulting and constituent services for him. Clemmons’ campaign account filings show he paid Crawford $150,000 over the course of five years for these services but failed to replace her when Crawford was elected to be a representative.

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Budgets - Cuts, Spending and You

The I-73 Rush Is On for County Tax Dollars

The Horry County Council Fall Planning Retreat scheduled for Wednesday November 28, 2018 has an interesting agenda item regarding I-73.

Innocuously called “A Resolution Authorizing the County Administrator to Execute a Funding Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation”, the agreement would provide DOT with Hospitality Fee revenue in an amount up to $25 million per year for things such as right of way purchases, engineering and construction on the proposed road.

While it is called a funding participation agreement, Section IV B of the agreement specifically states “SCDOT makes no financial commitment pursuant to this agreement.”

In other words, Horry County will be the only governmental agency providing funds for the I-73 project if this agreement is signed. Horry County officials often complain about being a “donor” county to the State Treasury. Yet, in this agreement, they would consent to sending even more county tax revenue to Columbia.

Proponents of this agreement have argued that I-73 is an important road to Horry County and that the Hospitality Fee revenue will only fund right of way purchases, engineering and construction for the Horry County section of the road, which ends in the vicinity of Hwy 917 at the Marion County line.

There is absolutely no economic benefit nor evacuation benefit Horry County citizens will receive from a road that ends in that rural section of Horry County.

Marion and Dillon counties, the other two counties in the Southern Corridor of the proposed I-73 to Interstate 95, are in no position to spend even one dollar of tax revenue toward the project. The only way construction of the road is going to be funded through those counties is with state and federal tax dollars.

Grand Strand Daily has spoken with legislators around the state over the past several months regarding funding for I-73 from Columbia. The only conclusion that can be drawn from these conversations is that the SC General Assembly has no plans to provide funding in the near term future for construction of I-73.

The MB Chamber Doth Protest Too Much

Watching the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce production Tuesday afternoon with respect to its handling of the tourism development fee public funds reminded me of a stage play.

It was a totally scripted production, billed as a press conference to answer the claims made in Karon Mitchell’s recently filed lawsuit. But, this “press conference” did not take questions from the press.

What kind of press conference does not take questions? One dealing with the TDF lawsuit obviously.

Of course, by taking questions the players could have been tripped up on their carefully crafted scripts, so it was best not to take them.

The scripts reminded me of Queen Gertrude from “Hamlet.” To paraphrase her timeless line, “The Chamber doth protest too much methinks.”

How many times were the words “fake,” “baseless,” “scandalous” and “shocking disregard for the truth” uttered during the respective acts? Too many to be believed, which is exactly the point of Queen Gertrude’s comment.

Even with the scripting, mistakes were made.

Time and again Mitchell was attacked by the various players, but no proof was provided to support those attacking statements, merely words. It was all Mitchell’s statements are false (and worse), We do all these things, believe us.

Board chair Carla Schuessler denied the Chamber was “inextricably intertwined with governmental policy,” as stated in the lawsuit. We covered the Tim McGinnis campaign connection in a previous article.

Once again there was no explanation of the consecutively numbered cashier’s checks totaling $325,000 that were disbursed among local and state politicians in 2009 after the tourism development fee became law and was instituted by Myrtle Beach city government.

More than anything else, it was those campaign contributions that stirred questions about the TDF and the Chamber that remain to this day.

Matt Klugman, Chair of the Marketing Council for MBACC, spoke over and over about a competitive bidding and RFP process that was used to select the services of various businesses, referred to as crony companies in the lawsuit, that were started by former Chamber employees. This is good! Documents related to those processes should make interesting reading when they become exhibits in the lawsuit.

Efforts to Debunk Karon Mitchell Lawsuit Flawed

(Ed. Note – Some negative reactions heard locally to the Karon Mitchell lawsuit are like the Chinese fireworks pictured above – loud and colorful but, in the end, just smoke.)

On April 5, 2018 at 3:05 p.m., Karon Mitchell filed a lawsuit against the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC), the City of Myrtle Beach and Horry County alleging misuse of tourism development fee (TDF) and accommodations tax (ATax) public funds.

In response to the lawsuit, MBACC issued a blanket denial of the allegations and at least one local television news outlet in the area attempted to, in its words, “fact check” the allegations.

The MBACC response came in a media statement issued April 6, 2018, by board chair Carla Schuessler:

“Today we had an opportunity to review the lawsuit that was filed against us, and l am disappointed to see that we will have to divert our time and resources to address this case which is full of conjecture, innuendo and inaccurate statements. The Chamber complies with all applicable laws regarding the use of public funds and selects vendors based on best business practices.”

The Chamber statement went on to say it will hold a press conference next week to accurately address the statements in the lawsuit.

The local news outlet broadcast a story April 6, 2018 where it claimed to find discrepancies, between claims in the lawsuit and MBACC public disclosure documents, with respect to public money spent with what are called in the lawsuit “crony companies.” According to the lawsuit, crony companies are companies formed by former and/or current Chamber employees and, in at least one instance, a company owned by a MBACC executive board member.

This appeared to be much ado about nothing as the MBACC public disclosure documents used generic descriptions instead of specific vendor names for some of the expenses listed. If those challenged expense amounts did not go to any of the crony companies, next week’s MBACC press conference can “accurately address” those statements and tell us exactly what company did receive the payments.

Another area addressed in the media story was a statement in the lawsuit that “the chamber funneled tourism tax money through the crony companies to contribute to politicians supported by the chamber.” 

North Myrtle Beach Tourism Development Fee Crushed in Vote

The possibility of a Tourism Development Fee in North Myrtle Beach suffered a crushing defeat Tuesday at the polls.

The unofficial tally was 188 Yes votes for the TDF against 3,050 No votes. The results will be certified by the North Myrtle Beach Election Commission Thursday.

Defeat of the TDF is not surprising. What is surprising is the turnout. In the days before the election, I spoke with several seasoned political professionals from Horry County to get their predictions for turnout. They all agreed the number of voters that would go to the polls would range from 750-1,000.

Those predictions were based on past turnout for special elections in Horry County and tempered by the fact that candidates were not on the ballot, just a single referendum question.

To put the numbers more in perspective, a special election in March on a referendum question only drew a total of 3,238 votes. The vote for mayor in the November 2017 city general election saw 3,670 total votes with Mayor Marilyn Hatley winning with 2,765 votes out of 3,670 votes cast. In that same election, councilman Terry White ran unopposed and only gained 2,894 votes.

To call the number of votes cast on this referendum question astounding is to understate it. But, it may also prove to be the high-water mark of politics for the current city council.

The result is exactly what, I believe, North Myrtle Beach city council members wanted from the beginning, a resounding repudiation of the TDF in a referendum vote to take that issue out of the political discussion once and for all. Several council members were quite outspoken with op-eds and social media during the campaign about their opposition to the TDF.

In my opinion, a presentation about the TDF by Mike Mahaney at the Tidewater Homeowners Association on February 19, 2018, one that I personally attended, hinted at other, one could say even better, options for the city than the TDF. The entire North Myrtle Beach city council attended the meeting after the city issued a notice three days before that there was no city council meeting February 19th.

Public Monies, Chambers of Commerce and South Carolina Supreme Court

It has been nearly four months since the South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments in the DomainsNewMedia.com v Hilton Head – Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.

The question before the court deals with whether the Chamber of Commerce is a public body and subject to the provisions of the S. C. Freedom of Information Act.

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC) filed an amicus curiae brief to the S. C. Supreme Court supporting the Hilton Head – Bluffton Chamber of Commerce position.

A Circuit Court judge in Bluffton County ruled in favor of Plaintiff DomainsNewMedia.com finding the Chamber is a public body within the definition of the law.

Actually, the law is quite straightforward. Section 30-4-20 of the S. C. Code of Laws defines a public body subject to the Freedom of Information Act as, “…any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds…”

The Hilton Head – Bluffton Chamber of Commerce receives accommodations tax money from the towns of Hilton Head and Bluffton as well as Beaufort County. The Chamber is the designated marketing organization for these governmental entities to expend the tax funds collected for tourism promotion.

The Chamber claimed before the Court that being the designated marketing organization for those public agencies did not negate its status as a private non-profit corporation not subject to FOIA.

The Chamber does provide a marketing budget and quarterly and year end reports for the public money to the governments involved.

In answer to a question from Justice Few about how a member of the public could find out specific information about the line items in the Chamber’s budget, the attorney for the Chamber suggested they would have to file a FOIA request with the town, who would then go to the Chamber for the specific information.

The argument was not that the public did not have a right to the information, it just didn’t have the right to request the information directly from the agency expending the funds, which is ridiculous.