Myrtle Beach officials, community leaders to discuss Memorial Day weekend safety

08/18/2014 5:11 AM

08/18/2014 11:35 AM

The Myrtle Beach City Council has called a special meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss safety and security planning for Memorial Day weekend while the Myrtle Beach branch of the NAACP will hold a press conference on the subject Thursday.

Council members received an update on the safety and security plan from Myrtle Beach Police Chief Warren Gall in a closed session during last week’s City Council workshop, but members said the update was rushed and wanted to meet again.

“We didn’t get to finish it so we’re going to talk about it some more,” Councilman Wayne Gray said. “And Phil [Render] wasn’t there at the workshop and we had to break early for lunch.”

City Council members went into the closed session around 10:45 a.m. Tuesday to discuss several issues, including a safety and security plan for Memorial Day weekend and personnel issues regarding specific city staff members, including city manager Tom Leath, who is retiring by the end of the year.

They came out of closed session around noon to attend a scheduled luncheon at the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School and Museum and went back into closed session from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Ted C. Collins Law Enforcement Center.

City Council cited a rule in state law that allows public bodies to discuss certain topics in closed session.

According to S.C. law, a public body may meet in closed session to discuss development of security personnel or devices, personnel issues, contractual arrangements, receive legal advice, for proceedings regarding criminal allegations, and matters relating to the location or expansion of industries or other businesses.

Council has met several times in closed session to discuss safety plans after three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings along Ocean Boulevard during Memorial Day weekend. Several thousand visitors come to the Grand Strand that weekend to attend the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, Military Appreciation Days, or to take advantage of a three-day weekend at the beach.

Councilman Randal Wallace said much of the discussion has been about addressing traffic issues caused by the influx of people in the Grand Strand that weekend.

“We need to determine what to do to manage the actual traffic problems – to keep it moving so there aren’t parties in the parking lots,” he said, adding that he hopes the city reintroduces an emergency lane.

Mickey James, president of the Myrtle Beach branch of the NAACP, said he wants to address those who have criticized the organization for not issuing a public response to the shootings while expressing support for making sure the city is safe Memorial Day weekend – and the rest of the year. James spoke during public comments at a May 27 City Council meeting.

“Our mission is to protect the civil rights of all people,” he said. “We are not in charge of law enforcement.”

However, James said he is upset that neither the NAACP nor other leaders in black communities have been invited to any of the discussions regarding ways to improve safety next year.

“When the governor met with the area leaders, she did not call on African American leaders,” James said. “I took that as an insult. Everybody is involved in this issue. ... Everyone agrees that something needs to be done.”

Gov. Nikki Haley has called for an end to Bikefest, saying the state could provide funding to turn the town into a tourist destination, but Atlantic Beach officials have said ending the 35-year-old event is not an option.

James is holding a press conference 10 a.m. Thursday at Myrtle Beach City Hall, 937 Broadway St., to express the NAACP’s support of making changes to enhance safety and security during Memorial Day weekend while promoting unity.

But James said he also is concerned with the crime seen in the city year-round.

“We have $5 million going to the [Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce] to deal with one weekend,” he said. “Then we have people in our community that’s robbing and stealing year-round, but we don’t have enough patrols to deal with it.”

The S.C. General Assembly approved a last-minute budget amendment in June that allows up to one third of accommodations taxes returned to Horry County – or municipalities in Horry County – to be set aside to pay for public safety during events held in May.

That could result in up to $5 million coming to Horry County and municipalities within the county – and up to $2.3 million available just to Myrtle Beach – to pay for additional law enforcement next year.

Gray said Leath expects city staff to present a fleshed out security plan to City Council by early September, but added that some things still may not be made public for safety reasons.

Gall is organizing a Myrtle Beach Special Events Summit to be held Sept. 21 to Sept. 23 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center where he has invited law enforcement officers from up and down the East Coast to share best practices on handling the safety and security at large events.

“I want to invite the agencies that are not hosting these kind of events, but seeing them pop up in their communities,” Gall said in July. “We’ll hear from people who are faced with these issues, what they’re facing, what worked and what didn’t work.”

Councilman Michael Chestnut said council is discussing options for possible changes to safety and security practices during Memorial Day weekend, but nothing has yet been finalized.

“We’re putting together a plan and want to get input from other people who have dealt with large events,” Chestnut said. “We want to fine-tune and double check and make sure that we have our thoughts together and make sure that our plans are the right ones. We want to make sure that we’ll be prepared for the people that are trying to come here – because they’re going to come.”

Chestnut said there are some members on City Council who are “putting so much emphasis on Memorial weekend” that they feel they need to speed up the process for hiring a new city manager.

Leath has said he will retire at the end of the year and the city has hired Georgia-based Slavin Management Consultants to aid in replacing the city manager. The application period ends Monday.

“They want [the replacement] to be here as soon as possible to be prepared for next year,” Chestnut said.

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