The five candidates for the Horry County Council chairman seat got face-to-face time with Carolina Forest residents Wednesday and hit on a number of issues including the community’s infrastructure needs and one candidate’s past arrest.
The candidates are: County Councilman Al Allen; former County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland; Debbie Harwell, former member of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors; former County Council member Mark Lazarus; and former council candidate Fonzie Lewis.
One theme that came up often during the almost 90-minute forum, held at the Carolina Forest Recreation Center, was how the designers of Carolina Forest didn’t properly plan for the area’s massive growth.
“It’s almost like you’re the lost planet that doesn’t get any attention,” said Lazarus during his opening statement before the audience of roughly 60. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Between the 2000 and 2010 census, Carolina Forest exploded in population, going from around 3,400 to over 20,000.
Infrastructure needs have been a common area of concern for residents, and community leaders want to see improvements such as the widening of Carolina Forest Boulevard from two lanes to four, and the completion of International Drive.
Harwell said she senses Horry County as a whole is about to experience a slow and steady growth pattern, and it will extend to Carolina Forest’s infrastructure needs.
“I believe we’re on a good, steady path,” she said.
Gilland also said she felt growth for the community comes by investing in existing businesses. She’d like to see the county offer incentive money to local companies that are on the bubble, and help them expand, she said.
“Focus on them, and don’t put all your eggs in the basket of trying to get 1,000 new jobs at once,” she said.
One portion of the forum, which was moderated by Dr. Eddie Dyer, of Coastal Carolina University, involved the candidates answering questions specifically addressed to them.
Allen was asked about his plan to increase transparency on County Council, something he was quick to point out is already being done successfully.
He referenced the County Council and committee meetings all being broadcast on local television stations, and the agendas being made available in a timely fashion.
“I don’t know how much more transparent you can get,” Allen said.
Lewis said 80 percent of local residents don’t know what’s taking place with Horry County Council, or other area government. The other 20 percent, he added, don’t want people to know what’s happening.
He stressed that for Horry County to grow, it’s imperative for voters to research every candidate in all elections and make sure they put the right people in office.
Then, in a confessional moment, Lewis came out from behind the podium and got up close to the audience. He told them of his 2011 arrest and how he spent time in jail for the first time in his life.
Lewis was arrested in October 2011 on charges of operating illegal gambling machines. He told the audience the charges were later dismissed.
Once the forum was over, the candidates spoke one-on-one with those in attendance, while everyone dined on Dunkin’ Donuts and Chick Fil-A appetizers.
Local resident Steve Clark felt all five candidates presented themselves well, but he hasn’t yet made up his mind about who to vote for.
Nicholas Katsanos, another Carolina Forest resident, agreed that the community has been neglected and there’s a lot of work to be done.
“Carolina Forest has a big need,” he said.
Because the candidates all are Republican, the March 12 primary will likely decide the race. But there will still be a general election on April 30, where the winner of the primary will face any write-in candidates for the term that expires in 2014.
The five hopefuls are looking to fill the seat vacated by former chairman Tom Rice after he was elected in November to represent the 7th Congressional District in the U.S. Congress.