The Republican primary for Horry County Council District 11 pits incumbent Al Allen, who is finishing his first four-year council term, against former county employee U.A. Johnson.
Both candidates have experience in county government, and both also have some hurdles to overcome for election or re-election. They are vying to represent the district that covers Aynor, Galivants Ferry and some other western parts of the county.
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Johnson, who was deputy county auditor, was indicted in 1989 on charges that he assisted in preparing and presenting fraudulent tax documents in the auditor's office. He was given a suspended sentence and was pardoned by Gov. Mark Sanford in September. Jack Gerrald, the auditor when Johnson was charged, pleaded guilty to several counts of the same charge and served three years in prison. Johnson pleaded guilty and was given probation and a suspended sentence.
Johnson said the charges arose after an incident where he allowed a resident to use his previously paid vehicle taxes on an older vehicle instead of redrawing a tax bill for a new car purchase.
"The investigators had asked me to give them information about Mr. Gerrald that I didn't know, and they told me if I didn't then they had some charges they could file against me," Johnson said. "I told them that if they knew of anything that I had done wrong, that they should charge me. I told them I'd stand on what I had done. I'm sorry that it happened and it was an unfortunate situation. It was my mistake and it really did involve that one incident."
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Allen did not return phone calls or e-mails asking for comment or interviews on his campaign.
Allen came under fire in 2008 for using a county credit card to pay for fuel for his airplane. Allen said during the incident that his wife saw the charge and he alerted the county of the mistake. He also reimbursed the county for the charges. Also in 2008, two companies that Allen and his family have interest in bid on a chance to run the Conway Horry County airport. No ethics issues arose from the incident because Allen did not vote on the contracts.
Allen for the most part has kept a low profile during his first term on the council. He took a proactive stance in late 2008 and 2009 during the investigation into a distemper outbreak at the county animal shelter that was being run by the Horry County Humane Society, which received county funding. Allen sent a letter during the outbreak asking that the board of the humane society resign, and he has repeatedly pushed for an audit of the society, despite the county retaking control of the shelter in February and ending its contract with the humane society in July.
With no Democratic opponent, whoever wins the primary on June 8 will take the council seat in January. The Sun News asked both candidates to answer a few questions about issues facing the district and the county. Allen didn't respond to repeated requests.
Question | With expectations for county budgets in the next few years being dire, what plans do you have to either increase revenue or decrease spending?
Johnson | The first thing I would do is look at the County Council members' recreation funds and their individual budgets. I would suggest they start by cutting those. The other area I think the county will need to look at is the vehicle fleet policy. The county is losing thousands of dollars a year on those county vehicles. I would also look at the individual department budgets, and I would freeze the hiring. I would say that people who are part of the TERI [retirement] program, until the economy improves, the county should not rehire any of those employees. They should tighten their belts and deal with what they have.
Q. | With the addition of the Cool Spring Industrial Park, District 11 has the chance for some job creation and development. What are your plans to help bring in industry and jobs to the district?
Johnson | The county spent about $1.8 million to build that park and they have no lease. Why was it built without having anybody in mind to lease it out? I don't support funding the [Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.]. I think we should be doing our own recruiting for industry and new business. I would support bringing that function back into the county like it was before we had this organization.
Q. | What are your plans to make sure the district's needs for roads and services aren't lost in the budget shuffle? How will you balance the overall needs of the county with the needs of the district?
Johnson | I plan to be visible, not run and hide from the residents. We have a county building in Aynor, and I plan to have some official hours there where people can come see me if they have concerns. I'm fully retired, and I'm not running for my own personal gain. I plan to listen to what people need and try to help them within the county's means.