By Paul Gable
A specially called meeting of Horry County Council tonight is scheduled to discuss renewing the contract of county administrator Chris Eldridge, which expires April 21, 2019.
What is really to be discussed here is whether council members expect Chairman Johnny Gardner to continue to have attempt to work with Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti after those two were unsuccessful in an attempt to smear Gardner even before he took office on January 1, 2019.
Six council members, Harold Worley, Dennis DiSabato, Tyler Servant, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus and Bill Howard, the Deep Six as I call them, voted against firing county administrator Chris Eldridge on March 5th, after the results of a SLED investigation cleared Gardner of allegations of wrongdoing lodged by Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti.
Three of them, Worley, DiSabato and Loftus, claimed the results of the SLED investigation did not warrant firing Eldridge. The other three, Crawford, Servant and Howard, didn’t even have the courtesy to explain to the collected citizens viewing the proceedings their reasons for voting as they did.
Gardner said he has no confidence in either Carotti or Eldridge.
“People will never understand how difficult it was for me to remain calm and move forward with the business of the county with those allegations against me,” Gardner said. “But, I knew I didn’t do anything wrong and I trusted in the system, a criminal justice system I have been a part of for over 30 years, to conclude the truth. Now, after a SLED investigation exonerated me of any wrongdoing, I find that the administrator and attorney tried to rig the investigation against me.”
Through emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by media, we know as early as December 12, 2018, Carotti and Eldridge, in concert with former chairman Mark Lazarus, were constructing a version of conversations, none of which any of the three were part of, in order to allege wrongdoing by Gardner.
Carotti authored a five-page memo based entirely on hearsay. The memo was completed December 19, 2018, and Eldridge forwarded it to SLED December 20, 2018 after the memo was leaked to a Columbia media outlet.
During the investigation, Carotti went even further by sending a January 8, 2019 email to SLED investigators attempting to dictate the direction of the investigation and the conclusions from SLED that were and were not acceptable, presumably to Carotti and Eldridge.
Carotti acted throughout the Gardner affair as the Horry County Government attorney under the direct supervision of the administrator. Carotti told SLED “the potential victim is in all of this…the EDC and Horry County Government.”
According to Carotti’s original five-page memo, he relied entirely on his interpretation of statements made to him and Eldridge by Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Davis to construct his version of events. After the memo became public, Davis, herself, said much of the memo was fabricated. Davis reiterated the fabrication claim to SLED investigators and in response to media inquiries. Carotti’s response to Davis’ statements was she is lying.
In other words, the one person Carotti relied on to produce his hearsay memo called the memo false. In attempting to destroy the credibility of Davis, Carotti also destroys the credibility of his memo.
During a January 4, 2019 special meeting of council that attempted to first discuss the actions of Carotti and Eldridge, and failed through the efforts of the Deep Six, Worley made the following statement: (This can be viewed on the video of the meeting by beginning at the 10:20 mark of the video.)
“I will tell you this and I’ll go ahead and say it so you’ll know where I’m coming from, it saddens me that anybody or any person, whether they are elected or not elected, would do anything to embarrass this county. It’s appalling. And I can say now, what’s going on with SLED needs to finish and I’ll say this to you Chris and you Arrigo, if it comes back that you guys tried to set this man (Gardner) up, I will vote to fire you.”
It is obvious from the original Carotti five-page memo constructed entirely out of hearsay and the substance of the emails that have become public since the SLED investigation was completed, Eldridge and Carotti attempted to set Gardner up and influence the investigation in a direction they hoped would implicate him in some wrongdoing.
Was Worley a man of his word? Absolutely not! Worley likes to pontificate from the council dais about ‘doing the right thing’ for the citizens of the county. It’s time for Worley to show he will keep his word and ‘do the right thing’ in this instance by acting on his promise of January 4th.
Eldridge and Carotti tried to set up the chairman and embarrassed Horry County but Worley and the rest of the Deep Six continue to support them.
It is unknown whether any of the Deep Six will vote not to renew the Eldridge contract tonight.
It is unknown what or who continues to drive the Deep Six to work counter to the will of the people of Horry County who are decidedly in favor of getting rid of both Eldridge and Carotti as can be seen by their many posts on social media.
One thing is certain, however, to paraphrase former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, ‘the Deep Six can run, but they can’t hide’ especially if any of them plans to file for reelection in the future.
Link to Carotti’s email trying to influence SLED: Attachment #18 – Attorney Carotti’s Outline of Questions for SLED