“For the past 67 days of divided county government, it has cost us $96.4 million to operate the county based on its current 2019 total budget.“
In his Tuesday testimony, County Administrator Chris Eldridge stated that he only notified former Chairman Mark Lazarus, Councilman Tyler Servant, Councilman Gary Loftus, and Councilman Harold Worley that he was calling in the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to investigate a concern he had. His concern was based on hearing 4 minutes of a 90 minute recording. Eldridge believed incoming Chairman Johnny Gardner attempted to extort MBREDC C.E.O. Sandy Davis.
The rest of County Council had no knowledge of Eldridge’s decision to call SLED in.
Sandy Davis, MBREDC C.E.O. and her assistant recorded incoming Chairman Johnny Gardner without notifying him. While Eldridge claimed he heard what could have been extortion, the SLED report ultimately concluded there was no hint of extortion on the audio. The SLED report also stated that Eldridge “had malicious intentions.“
Eldridge told County Council he called in SLED on the morning of December 20th, because a Fitsnews article was in the public domain that morning and he felt he needed to act without consulting full council.
Eldridge told council he called SLED in at 9:55 a.m. on December 20th.
Just after Eldridge’s call, the article headline changed and included SLED’s involvement. The weight of that narrative, which included SLED, gave substance to the issue causing all local mainstream media to run with the article before the afternoon’s inauguration.
Only five people in total knew SLED was called in. How did FITSNEWS know so quickly when no other major media outlets were made aware?
MyrtleBeachSC news spoke with Councilmen Worley and Servant. Each stated they would never leak such an investigation. Neither had spoken to Eldridge on the morning of the 20th about this and neither knew the timing of when SLED was called in that day.
Councilman Loftus responded to us by email, “Not me“.
Former Chairman Mark Lazarus texted us, “Not me nor anyone affiliated with me. This will be my last correspondence with you regarding this matter.” Sent from my iPhone Mark Lazarus
We also reached out to SLED who told us it was not their protocol to make random bloggers, like Fitsnews, singularly aware of investigations they conducted.
Fitsnews actually reached out to SLED to confirm a “tip” they had been given that an active investigation was requested. They were made aware of the investigation by a “source”. SLED did not reach out to Fitsnews.
That left Chris Eldridge. Mr. Eldridge responded only after he realized that all councilmen, including the former Chairman had replied. Said Eldridge, “No, as previously stated, and no further comments.” For the record, Mr. Eldridge has never responded to any of our previous questions.
Of the five who knew, three had no motive for giving the county and its leadership such a black eye. Councilmen Worley, Servant, and Loftus have shown deep concern over the unrest this affair created in our community.
If sour grapes could be defined as a motive, Mr. Lazarus would certainly have one. However, all who have spoken publicly, including Eldridge, state Mr. Lazarus made peace with the Gardner election. He is choosing to move forward.
Chris Eldridge knew the exact moment when he called SLED in. Listening to his testimony this past week and following his actions of the past sixty days, a clear pattern of Eldridge’s unwillingness to accept the people’s choice for county chairman becomes apparent.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gardner, under intense media scrutiny, has shown a steady and patient hand dealing with an issue portraying him as guilty until proven innocent. His resolve in the situation shows he is just the man for this transitional moment in Horry County history.
Success = Effort/Resistance
The bureaucratic, Horry County top administrative swamp is clearly resistant to the kind of change Gardner represents. It was obvious at Tuesday’s packed council meeting, the public is squarely behind Gardner, however, and not the bureaucrats.
The Cost Of Divided Government
After Tuesday’s vote, several councilmen have expressed concerns over the cost of firing Chris Eldridge, despite the 6 to 6 vote of no confidence from those same employers.
Since the SLED leak of December 20th, Horry County government has been at an administrative stand still. Last Tuesday’s vote exposed just how divided county government is. Chairman Gardner expressed he could not work with Chris Eldridge. As Chairman, Gardner has every right to pick his top administrative team. He deserves to have people he can trust.
Does divided government have a cost?
With a total budget of $525,494,705, it costs Horry County $1,439,771 per day to operate. For the past 67 days of divided local government, it has cost us $96.4 million in total to operate the county based on its current budget.
Questions remain as to whether one county bureaucrat was able to subvert the will of 83,000 county voters. If Worley, Servant, Loftus, and Lazarus are to be believed, that is just the case.
Despite surviving the 6 to 6 “no confidence” vote of last Tuesday, several of Eldridge’s council supporters privately admit there is no future for him in local government. Chris Eldridge simply over-played his hand entering into a realm that should be reserved to voters only.
As for his part, we sent the following email to Will Folks of Fitsnews.
We have now heard from all five named by Eldridge, including Chris Eldridge. Your first article (originally posted 12.19.18), while salacious, lacked the muscle and the political discrediting of a SLED investigation.
Your second article written on Dec. 20th prior to Gardner’s inauguration, naming SLED’s involvement caused a chain of events that lead to all other media outlets running with the “extortion” narrative.
After hearing from all 5 involved, it is clear one local government person of interest used your media, coupled with SLED, as a weapon to smear an innocent man who won the popular vote from 80,000 Horry County residents just weeks prior.
The SLED report is clear. There was no extortion, (EVER), as the MBREDC C.E.O. herself stated. Not sure if you heard the audio prior to publication, but that certainly should have been a minimum bar considering what was at stake.
I will be reaching out to Tom at SLED. We know, from experience, it is NOT protocol for SLED to randomly call selective news outlets and inform them of an investigation. When they do such, it is always through a press release to every news outlet.
In my discussions with all involved, it has become clear who the credible and non credible voices are among the 5 (including Eldridge) that knew Eldridge requested SLED’s involvement on 9:55 a.m. on December 20th.
The timing here on December 20th leaves very limited options as to whom your source might be. I am sure you are aware of this.
I consider this a serious matter. The rights of voters to decide their elected officials are paramount.
Our article needs sunlight so as to see that nothing like this EVER happens in Horry County again.
Had SLED been called in and the matter kept confidential, that would be a different story.
I believe both your blog site and SLED were used as weapons in this matter.
It is now left to our council and our community to heal this mess. AND WE WILL!