Re “Myrtle Beach is entering a Golden Age because of talent in city government” by J. David Utterback
Utterback praises city employees for helping Myrtle Beach enter a “Golden Age.”
But it is our responsibility to evaluate their employers, the mayor and City Council.
Utterback calls the city manager a “maestro” who is beautifying Myrtle Beach and making new projects happen. He thanks other employees for providing funding sources, ensuring procedures are followed, remaking our downtown, and ensuring that “big plans” succeed. He may be an expert landscape architect, but he demonstrates a glaring ignorance of the purpose and function of local government. The city does not provide the funding sources to build projects – taxpayers do.
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The city is not some generous monarch that paid for a convention hotel -- one that no major hotel corporation would gamble on – taxpayers did.
His examples of “leadership and thoughtful consideration” include building an expensive Performing Arts Center and the purchase and demolition of the wrongly-named “Super Block,” supposedly to make way for a new Chapin Library and a new Children’s Museum. I would submit that neither of these projects is a function of government and neither belongs at the epicenter of Myrtle Beach Tourism. They might providing a great view of no one riding the world’s most absurd ZIPLINE on what must America’s largest piece of empty beach front real estate, but that’s all. These projects are classic examples of an often unhealthy alliance between business and local government.
When America works best, local governments create an environment conducive to attracting private investment. Spending $10 million (about $370 per resident) and utilizing eminent domain for purposes other than infrastructure is preposterous.
The mayor and City Council direct this city with iron fists. It is a multiple-termed, incumbent-stacked council that fills boards and commissions with insiders and runs roughshod over the very term limits they have set for those groups.
Council had the audacity to pass 13 outrageous ordinances in 2008 in a veiled attempt to end Black Bike week, most of which were overturned by the South Carolina Supreme Court. This mayor apparently believes he’s been anointed to negotiate the public’s business with foreign leaders. They received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to do the bidding of the all-powerful Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
They were armed by our local delegation in Columbia and legally permitted to avoid a public referendum so they could raise your sales taxes. This infamous Tourism Development Fee (TDF) gives your tax dollars to the chamber of commerce to promote the hotel industry, about $20 million annually. To ensure minimal voter opposition, your legislators gave the city permission to pay the property taxes of wealthy homeowners using your sales taxes. In medieval times, such a ruthless practice might have been labeled Hooded Robin and his Merry Council; they take from the poor and give to the rich.
No, the Golden Age which Utterback attributes to our “leadership” is nothing more than a perfect storm of big business, insider deals and taxpayer abuse. Except for a few deserving beautification projects (some designed Utterback), Myrtle Beach is but a shell of its once charming self. It’s not an “apple with a piece bitten out of it,” but an endless sea of bad ideas and rotten apples strewn like tombstones across a graveyard, the remnants of dreams turned into nightmares. Ocean Forest Hotel is but a memory, as is Fantasy Harbor; the Pavilion & Pavilion Amusement Park; All-Star Café; Hard Rock Theme Park; Freestyle Park; Planet Hollywood; NASCAR Café; Hard Rock Café; even the controversial Doll House and dozens of golf courses. Word is the once proud Palace Theater could be next.
The real tragedy? The Grand Strand is overflowing with intelligent, experienced, honest men and women who could create a “Golden Age” but are turned back from every attempt because they might disrupt this ugly power structure.
Voters have a choice in November. They can launch a golden age by taking their city back.
The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.