Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus apologized last week for using a word often associated with ousting black people when talking to Coast RTA CEO Meyers Rollins, who happens to be black.
Lazarus said at the June 18 county council meeting: “You’re disenfranchised from this county council. We’re going to fix that problem... We’re going to franchise you. We’re going to bring you in … and we’re going to understand better what’s going on.”
Lazarus said he meant no harm by the word disenfranchise, which was used to describe the efforts to deprive blacks of the right to vote decades ago.
“I was not prepared or was not even going to speak on the subject,” Lazarus said of the Coast RTA issue the county has been battling. It has been trying to decide whether to give Coast RTA its fourth quarter payment of more than $260,000 based on a requirement it set for Coast RTA to change the make up of its board. “At that time, I did speak to Mr. Rollins and I was direct. As a businessman, sometimes you have to be direct.
“In my speech and in the moment, I used the word disenfranchised. I can tell you and I can stand here and look every one of you in the face and eyes, I meant no harm out of that. It was a word. If I offended anybody with that word or you took it personally, I apologize for that. What I should have said is engaged.”
Lazarus said he wants Rollins to be more part of county government and know the area’s state legislators a little bit better.
Rollins said he met with Lazarus and preferred the discussion he had to remain private. He did, however, say he considered Lazarus “a leader, a stand-up guy and a friend.”
“Chairman Lazarus and I have talked and agreed to use this as a teachable moment and move forward,” Rollins said. “For me, this issue has nothing to do with race. I do not judge someone on a single slip of the tongue, I look at the whole man.”
Rollins said Lazarus was one of the first elected officials to reach out to him nine years ago when he was struggling to turn Coast RTA around.
“That is the Mark that I know and have grown to respect and admire,” Rollins said. “I believe that Mark truly cares about public transportation and I look forward to working with the County Council under Mark’s leadership to increase council representation on the Coast RTA board and create a world class public transit system that enhances the quality of life for Horry County residents.”
Mickey James, president of the Myrtle Beach Branch of the NAACP and Coast RTA board member, said he heard some feedback in the community about the use of the word.
“I feel like your apology has been accepted from most people. That’s my opinion,” James said to Lazarus. “I think all of us are guilty of saying things they shouldn’t have said.”
Lazarus said he has learned to watch closely what he says.
“I won’t ever use that word again,” Lazarus said. “I can promise you.”