North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley plans to kick off her campaign for reelection on Flag Day by hosting a free ice cream social at city hall.
The four-term mayor will be handing out Original Painter’s Homemade ice cream and lemonade on June 14 beginning at 1 p.m. in the building’s atrium at 1018 2nd Avenue South.
She will be talking about her accomplishments as mayor, which include the completion of the Cherry Grove dredging projects, the Sports Complex, road works and the Main Street outfall to help prevent downtown flooding.
And she will talk about her goals, which are listed in campaign literature as keeping taxes the lowest in the state, opposing off-shore drilling and a commitment to the “proper expansion” of business and sports tourism.
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Hatley calls the ice cream social her signature community event, and says she hosted her last two reelection announcements in the government building, which is permitted under state law.
“I’ve never had any problem with that, it’s a public building and we let other people use it,” Hatley said.
“Anyone who wants to use it is allowed to use it if they are running for office and hold announcements at city hall,” Hatley said.
According to state law, no candidate for office can use government equipment, materials, employees or an office building in an election campaign.
However, an elected official may use public facilities for campaign purposes if the buildings are available on similar terms to all candidates, the law states.
John Crangle, an ethics watchdog and public relations director for the S.C. Progressive Network, said most politicians will rent a hotel reception room to announce election or reelection bids.
However, he concurred that it’s permissible for incumbent candidates to use the government building in which they work for certain campaign activities.
“It was designed to stop candidates from running campaigns out of their office, which they used to do in the old days before ethics reform was passed,” Crangle said.
“There is an exception that does allow use of public facilities, if it’s available to other candidates on an equal basis,” Crangle said.
Pat Dowling, spokesman for North Myrtle Beach, said they do not permit commercial events in the atrium, but they do host charity events, art shows and political announcements.
“We’re pretty aware there is a fine line between an incumbent having an advantage over a challenger,” Dowling said. “As far as staff participating in setup or writing speeches for candidates, we don’t do that.”
Past challengers have made announcements outside of the building. If they had asked, Dowling says, staff would have scheduled time for them to use the atrium as well, and are prepared to do so during this campaign cycle.