Who are the Real Thugs in Horry County?

By Paul Gable

The above cartoon by Ed Wilson depicts the now famous incident that resulted in Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus calling police and fire fighters in the county “thugs.”

Lazarus called them thugs because several first responders asked him tough questions at the Burgess Community Forum last week, then, heckled Lazarus as he walked out of the meeting.

The use of the word “thug” by Lazarus was ridiculous because its normal definition refers to violent, criminal type behavior none of which was in evidence at the forum.

The term “thugs” was also given to anti-war protesters during the 1960’s and anti-nuclear protesters throughout the western democracies in the 1970’s.

I would submit the term “thug” can also be applied to those in government who use their position and power to bully people or ignore the law to achieve desired results.

For example, after Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones request for an additional person in her office was denied by a combination of council members and the county administrator, Jones filed suit to gain the position.

The county’s response to the lawsuit was to attack Jones’ credibility and performance personally, a typical bully (thug) type of response.

Early this year, several council members said Lazarus was not going to intervene to attempt to help settle the case amicably, but was willing to let it go to court for resolution.

When Jones walked out of a council meeting after the discussion ventured into the area of her lawsuit, Lazarus was quite critical with several derogatory comments aimed at Jones. However, when discussion at a political forum entered into an area that made Lazarus uncomfortable, he had no problem walking out.

Does anyone else find that hypocritical?

However, that attitude appeared to change after Johnny Gardner filed to challenge Lazarus for the Republican nomination for county council chairman and it was apparent Jones had significant support from the public for her lawsuit.

From the end of filing March 30th there was a full court press of council members trying to get Jones to settle the lawsuit, an event which occurred on May 17, 2018.

These events raised the question in my mind ‘how much did the county spend on outside counsel defending the lawsuit and could it have saved money by giving Jones the one additional staff member she initially requested’?

An FOIA request was sent to the county for the amount paid to outside counsel to defend the lawsuit brought by Jones. Coincidentally, the county denied my FOIA request on May 17, 2018 saying the requested information was not covered by the FOIA law.

One of the principal reasons for the FOIA law is to provide complete transparency on how governments spend public tax dollars. The county, however, chose to ignore those provisions of the law apparently to keep secret how much it spent with outside counsel on the Jones lawsuit.

According to the Horry County Government online check register, checks totaling $98,129.96 were sent to the McNair Law Firm between December 14, 2017 and May 24, 2018, a time frame that coincides with the Jones lawsuit.

With the county’s refusal to provide an alternative amount spent on outside counsel, it can be presumed the entire amount was spent defending the Jones lawsuit. The additional position Jones requested would have cost approximately $40,000.

It appears the county wasted at least $58,129.96 (the difference between the cost of the position and the total payments sent to McNair Law Firm) by attempting to bully Jones and, by extension, attempting to help Lazarus get reelected.

Lazarus refused to answer tough questions from police and fire fighters and called them “thugs.”

It appears the real thuggish behavior came from county government officials in their attempts to smear Jones publicly and the willingness to waste taxpayer dollars to do it.

Instead of calling themselves Team Horry, maybe Lazarus and the elected officials who endorsed his reelection should call themselves Team Thug. Just sayin’.

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