By Paul Gable
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.
Over and over, Klugman confirmed much of the information about the crony companies and the amount of TDF funds they received that were included in Mitchell’s complaint.
And Klugman made one glaring mistake when he referred to Miller Direct as a local business. Just a few days before, outgoing Chamber President and CEO Brad Dean stated on camera that Miller Direct is located in Ft. Mill, SC. I know the power structure in Myrtle Beach has an inflated perception of its importance, but extending all the way to the northwest corner of the state is a bit much.
The so-called press conference did nothing to truly answer anything in the lawsuit. It did make Karon Mitchell a punching bag for the approximately 20 minutes of its run. But, its main goal was probably to give Myrtle Beach City Council a bit of cover as, shortly after the Chamber production concluded, it unanimously passed second reading of an ordinance extending the TDF for a further 10 years.
As the Mitchell lawsuit and public discussion about it progresses, it would be good to remember the statement of former Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas about the importance of free speech:
“A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs the people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging…There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.” Justice William O. Douglas, Terminiello v. Chicago
Standardization of ideas by a dominant community group is what the Chamber appears to be seeking in the case of TDF discussions.