By Paul Gable
Much of the county, especially the citizens who voted for Johnny Gardner, are eagerly awaiting a report from SLED exonerating Gardner from the allegations made against him by Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.
The SLED investigation into the allegations was called for by Eldridge after Carotti authored a five-page email memo outlining these supposed allegations based solely on hearsay and rumor.
If I had written a story about the chairman, the same story related in the Carotti memo, with the same lack of solid documentation and using only the same rumor, hearsay and gossip used in the memo as my sources, I could justifiably be sued for libel, defamation and reckless disregard for the truth.
And with the rapidity that the memo was leaked and appeared in print, I’m not sure that is not exactly what was done with the reporting to SLED as cover to try and build a whistleblower defense.
But allegations based on rumor and hearsay are specifically excluded from the whistleblower defense. Therefore, it looks like Carotti and Eldridge are far out on a limb while sawing it off behind them.
One definition of malfeasance is the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified. I submit making allegations of wrongdoing with nothing more than rumor, hearsay and gossip to back them up, reporting those allegations to SLED and having them leaked to the media are legally unjustified acts. Therefore, it is not a stretch to say that both Eldridge and Carotti may have committed malfeasance by acts so irresponsible they should be fired.
It is a felony in South Carolina to make a false report to law enforcement officials.
I would further submit that any council member who told Eldridge to send the matter to SLED, as Eldridge claimed in a letter to council, and any council member who tries to shield Eldridge and Carotti from discipline by attempting to justify their acts may also be committing malfeasance because there is nothing legally justified about sending a memo to SLED based entirely on rumor, hearsay and gossip.
Carotti and Eldridge hired lawyers to represent them in front of council at the special meeting earlier this month so they must not be feeling very secure either. Why hire lawyers if you have all the documentation needed to justify your acts?
Since they have lawyered up, would a council member meeting with Carotti and Eldridge to try and help them keep their jobs be putting the county at greater risk in lawsuits?
Carotti and Eldridge got their story out and for a few days it gathered media attention, which seemed to be the intent of the memo in the first place.
However, when the report comes back, some are saying next week, this matter can be put to rest and the people who instigated the entire affair can have their day of reckoning.