Hundreds of Horry County residents, who planned to attend the inauguration party of incoming Council Chairman Johnny Gardner, woke to a surprise today. Will Folks of the Columbia based political blog site, Fitsnews, wrote what can only be called several “hit pieces” on supposed allegations made by Sandy Davis, C.E.O., of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.
The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation has experienced what can only be called a “checkered past” of turning over one C.E.O. after another featuring headlines that include: President, CEO of MB Regional Economic Development Corporation resigns (This published July 20, 2018) and Loris factory, touted as city’s economic savior 3 years ago, closes without warning (Published December 13, 2018)
The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation gets over $1.3 million annually in county tax subsidies according to writer Paul Gable, who has reported ongoing critical investigations of the group like this article in 2015: http://grandstranddaily.com/disparity-in-treatment-coast-rta-vs-mbredc/
The allegations made by today’s Fitsnews article were later covered by the State Newspaper, Sun News and most major news outlets.
According to Gardner’s Business Managing Partner, Luke Barefoot, MBREDC C.E.O. Sandy Davis asked Gardner and Barefoot to a lunch meeting to discuss the MBREDC and plan for 2019. According to Fitsnews, once Gardner arrived, the MBREDC’s director of investor relations, who was also at the meeting with Barefoot and Gardner secretly recorded the conversation on her cell phone.
MBREDC Board member, and County Administrator, Chris Eldridge claims newly sworn in Horry County Councilman Johnny Gardner then tried to manipulate Sandy Davis, during the meeting. However, Fitsnews reports Gardner never commented at all during the meeting. Davis, herself, stated,
“I never felt threatened or felt like I was told to hire anybody. I guess everybody interprets things differently.”
Davis told myhorrynews.com that she wanted to speak with the MBREDC board’s executive committee before offering any specifics about what she believes is an inaccurate 5 page memo produced by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti, though she stressed the extortion narrative about the meeting is false and the tape reflects that.
“A lot of it’s fabricated,” she said.
SLED spokesman Thom Berry confirmed that Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge asked the state police to look into the allegations Thursday morning. The case has been assigned to SLED’s Pee Dee Regional Office.
Business manager Luke Barefoot can be heard on the recording according to blogger Will Folks.
The MBREDC Board is packed with a contingent of members who supported previous Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, who lost to Gardner in this past June’s primary. Mark Lazarus himself sits on the board. Why would Ms. Davis choose to secretly record the meeting held in a public location? Was she expecting to be extorted?
Conflicts abound. Mike Wooten also sits on the board of the MBREDC. He works on behalf of large land developers who are opposed to a tidal wave of resident demands that include adding impact fees on new developments to pay for that growth. These Conway, Aynor, Loris, Carolina Forest and Longs residents also want the $25 million in annual proposed funding for extending Highway 22 to the Horry County line be placed on other priorities needed inside the county. Wooten is the former SCDOT Commissioner. Extending the road would help his concerns develop the lands west of Highway 90. Fears among insiders are that Gardner will actually follow through on campaign promises he made to the public at large.
MBREDC and its team are comprised of a strong contingent of those insiders who carry those exact concerns.
COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR ELDRIDGE
Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge also sits on the MBREDC board. Surely, he is aware of the parade of current and former county employees who, since the election, have recently reached out to the incoming Chairman demanding Eldridge be fired. One former fireman, Chad Caton, made “firing Eldridge” a central part of last year’s primary. Lazarus himself apologized just this week for calling the fireman a “thug.” When the county refused to pay for Caton’s health issues, caused by his heroic efforts in fighting a fire, Caton sued the county and won.
LOCALS REQUEST AUDIO RELEASED
MyrtleBeachSC news reached out to MBREDC C.E.O. Sandy Davis, County Administrator Chris Eldridge, MBREDC Board Member Mike Wooten, MBREDC Board Member Mark Lazarus and MBREDC Board Member and County Councilman Gary Loftus as follows:
As we covered, Fitsnews is currently being sued by MBREDC Board Member Mike Wooten. Blogger Folks called the above a joke, and said he looked forward to a lawsuit. When asked directly if the suit was being dropped, he chose not to respond. Horry County PIO Kelly Moore responded as below.
LOCAL JOURNALIST ALSO IN THE CROSSFIRE
According to Fitsnews, promises were made by Barefoot that Davis could expect positive press from local Journalist Paul Gable, if she paid approximately $40,000.00. Paul Gable responded with an email to County Council as follows:
I was surprised to be told this morning that an article today in FitsNews included reproduction of a five page email from Arrigo Carotti to Chris Eldridge and the current 12 members of county council in which my name was included in events that never happened.
Carotti said in his concluding sentence that the email was written to the best of his recollection.
Let’s expand on that, it included statements that could be interpreted as pointing to possible criminal acts. These statements were made, to the best of Carotti’s recollection, about a conversation he had with Sandy Davis about a conversation she supposedly had with Luke Barefoot, presumably to the best of her recollection.
This is hearsay at its worst!
Now let’s get to the crux of the matter.
In his email, Carotti says Davis told him that Barefoot told her, “that Paul Gable was getting ready to print an article against the EDC pointing out her lack of education specifically, and that she could head that off, and any similar blogs in the future, by retaining Donald Smith to do the EDC’s public relations.”
The problem with that statement is I never talked to Luke Barefoot, or anyone else, about doing an article about Sandy Davis’ education. I never had in my mind at any time doing such an article. I have certainly written many articles criticizing the EDC and Partners before it about the organization’s many missteps in including businesses such as AvCraft and Project Blue, to name two, in its economic development efforts.
I have stated many times, both in articles and in person, I believe county council’s funding of the EDC is a waste of money. Nobody has paid me to say that, nor has anyone ever offered to pay me to have me not say that.
There is a reference in the Carotti email to a conversation Davis reported having with Donald Godwin. “She said that she also had talked to Donald Godwin who told her that they had done the same
to him, and that he had paid, and that it didn’t matter because when you stop paying they’ll write
bad stuff about you anyway.”
I have never written a story about Donald Godwin, either positive or negative, and I have never spoken to Donald Godwin about paying me to either write a story or not write a story. In my estimation, that entire statement, supposedly credited to Godwin, is pure fiction on the part of Davis, Carotti or both!
One would expect an attorney, prior to passing along such hearsay, would attempt to determine whether it is true or not by going to the supposed original source. But, maybe I am expecting too much.
Gentlemen of council, I have never been paid by Donald Smith to either write a story or not write a story. I have never been paid by anyone to write a story or not write a story. Anything I write comes from my own decision to write it!
Anyone who says otherwise, if anyone actually did, is a liar
The email also includes statements that Neyle Wilson had a different interpretation of what Davis told him about her conversation with Barefoot to what Davis supposedly told Carotti. Carotti admits that there are several versions of the Davis recollections and that he isn’t sure about what is true.
Carotti’s email to council members is so full of misinformation based on hearsay it is laughable. However, he chose to share this information with council members.
One must wonder what the motivation really is behind Carotti’s sending such a missive to county council members and why at least one shared it with FitsNews.
Quite frankly, the entire exercise seems to be an attempt to smear Johnny Gardner on the day he will participate in a swearing in ceremony as the new chairman of county council. It appears to be an attempt to turn those who will be returning to council against Gardner before he ever takes office.
Carotti is the county attorney. This is an EDC issue. Davis is not an employee of Horry County as Carotti said he stated to her. Who was his client that he referred to in his remarks about listening to a four minute segment of an hour and a half conversation?
Lazarus, Loftis and Eldridge are all members of the EDC board and presumably were acting in that capacity in listening to the tape.
What exactly are the motivations behind the actions of Eldridge and Carotti in grossly blowing such hearsay out of proportion?
In my opinion, it is time for county council to get the county administrator and county attorney under control.