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Horry County Council adds day to share policy

Today's meeting of Horry County's new Committee of the Whole marks what officials hope will be an improvement in the way the county conducts its business and make it easier for the public to participate.

New council Chairman Tom Rice said he didn't like the idea that for the majority of the 12 council members, the first time they heard about issues was at the meeting when they were being asked to vote.

That's because the council was divided into three committees with four members each:

public safety, including police, fire/rescue, 911, veterans' affairs and the animal care center;

infrastructure and regulation, including planning, zoning, code enforcement, public works, engineering, stormwater, parks and recreation, and maintenance;

administration, including the assessor's office, budget and revenue, finance, grants, libraries, museum, elections and more

Each member would become familiar with his own committee's issues, but would rarely attend other committee meetings.

"Not unless I had an issue that was coming before them," said Councilman Brent Schulz, District 2.

They'd receive a council "packet" the Friday before Tuesday's meetings - some of which were 250 pages long - and be expected to know how to vote on each topic in four days.

"We made it really difficult for people," Rice said. "I just think you make better decisions when you have all the information and can be prepared."

The committee of the whole is, as its name suggests, the whole council, getting together for a workshop outside the regular twice-monthly meetings.

"Sometimes they'll just hear reports, and sometimes the agenda items will be on their way to the council for decisions," said county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier. But the council members will all have the chance to participate in all presentations, discussions and debates.

Rice had proposed adding a fourth committee, on economic development, and holding all committee meetings back to back on the same day so everyone could attend gatherings.

But in a workshop last month, the council members decided it would be easier for the public to attend the committee meetings if they were held all in one session.

Rice said holding committee meetings on different days and at different times made it more difficult for the public to know when to show up, but some council members said they could not commit to an entire day of back to back meetings as he proposed.

"Schedule-wise, that just wasn't going to work," said Councilman Marion Foxworth, District 3.

He said he still has concerns about the public being able to make it to the committee of the whole, but is willing to try it.

Schulz said when he was on the infrastructure and regulations committee, "when people really had concerns, they found a way to attend."

Foxworth said because the workshops won't be televised, the media's role in covering the meetings becomes even more important to the public. Without televised workshops, people will see less of the process the County Council goes through to make decisions on their behalf.

Schulz said he wouldn't be opposed to having the workshop televised if the public is concerned about access, but the meetings will all be recorded and minutes will be taken, too.

"I hope it works," Schulz said. "I'm all about trying to make things work."

Rice agreed.

"If it doesn't work, we will just revisit it," he said.