To be perfectly clear: Who holds the job of county administrator in Horry County, South Carolina is of absolutely no consequence to us.
Duly elected county governments across the Palmetto State should choose whichever candidates their leaders prefer for administrative positions … same as municipal governments.
Obviously we will weigh in from time to time regarding the fitness (or lack thereof) of certain candidates for these appointments … but at the end of the day the responsibility for selecting them falls to the respective local governments.
Process matters, though, and in Horry County we continue to see evidence of political chicanery that should give local residents cause for pause.
On Monday, Horry county council is set to hold another meeting to determine the status of county administrator Chris Eldridge – who has survived at least two attempts on his job within the last few months.
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The allegations against Gardner (above) did not produce criminal charges, but they have resulted in a bitterly divided county government – with Gardner and his allies pushing for Eldridge’s ouster from the moment the investigatory referral was made.
Earlier this month, county council deadlocked 6-6 on Eldridge’s employment status – a vote the state’s preeminent open government expert argued was cast illegally.
“The public had no legitimate notice that the administrator’s contract was to be discussed and perhaps acted upon,” said attorney Jay Bender.
Gardner isn’t making the same mistake twice, though. Nor apparently is he leaving the outcome of the next vote to chance – reportedly scheduling Monday’s meeting for a time when county councilman Tyler Servant (who voted against ousting Eldridge earlier this month) will be out of town.
Servant told reporter Tyler Fleming of The (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Sun News that Gardner’s decision to hold the vote at a time when he would be out of town was “unethical” and undermined the will of the people.
We concur …
How did we arrive at this dubious juncture? To recap: According to a memo prepared back in December by Horry County attorney Arrigo Carotti, then-chairman-elect Gardner and Luke Barefoot – the council chairman’s aide-de-camp – held a meeting in late November with Sandy Davis, the new president and chief executive officer of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (MBREDC).
During this meeting, Barefoot allegedly told Davis (in Gardner’s presence) that she could “head off” negative media coverage about herself and her organization by paying $40,000 to the incoming chairman’s political consultant, Conway, S.C.-based advisor Donald Smith. It was further suggested, according to the memo, that the payment could be disguised in such a way as to give her “political cover.”
“If I were y’all, I would meet with (Smith) and think about retaining him for political cover to protect your funding,” Barefoot told Davis at the meeting, according to an audio recording obtained by SLED.
Barefoot allegedly identified Paul Gable – editor of Grand Strand Daily – as the media figure who was contemplating negative coverage of Davis and the MBREDC.
Also, emails released earlier this week uncovered another alleged extortion plot involving businessman Donald Godwin of Conway, S.C. Godwin is the owner of Southern Asphalt, a company that does extensive business with the county.
Our view on all this? We continue to be disappointed by the manner in which Gardner – who branded himself as “the people’s candidate” – is conducting the people’s business.
First he tried to fire Eldridge behind closed doors. Then he tried to do it with an illegal vote. Now he is apparently waiting for one of his opponents to leave town so he can get the margin he wants.
We know Gardner has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in connection with the extortion allegations, but does any of that sound like the behavior of an innocent man?
No … it does not.
Stay tuned … this news outlet exclusively reported on this saga back in December. We look forward to following it further as it continues to unspool.
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