Former Myrtle Beach mayor reflects on establishment of a professional government

Former Mayor Bob Hirsch was elected at somewhat of a turning point for Myrtle Beach.

Before his election in 1973, the mayor and council members had strong control over government – what Hirsch, 89, referred to as a “strong mayor type of government.” Council members served as heads of different departments, having a hand in the day-to-day running of the city.

“There was no professionalism in the way things were handled,” Hirsch said, an engineer by trade who served as the director of planning and zoning for the city before running for mayor. “It was absolutely imperative to get professional people in those areas.”

That all changed in 1973 when residents voted to change city government’s makeup to a council-city manager form of government.

As Myrtle Beach approaches its 75th birthday on Tuesday, Hirsch reflected on how that vote changed the direction of the city.

“It was a drastic transformation for the city,” Hirsch said. “I campaigned on going to a professional form of government rather than a strong mayor government. We had reached a point in our growth where we needed a professional.”

That professional was David Stradinger, who now is co-owner of Dock Street Communities and serves on the Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corp. board of directors. He was the first city manager hired after the change in government, he said.

“At that time the city was run out of a cigar box,” Stradinger said, adding that the change brought a sophistication to running city government that wasn’t there before. “The early 70s were pretty primitive.”

A professional government

Stradinger said he hired a full time city planner to address building and zoning issues that he and Hirsch felt were a priority. Together, Stradinger and the city council worked to put zoning and code ordinances in place and established the Community Appearance Board.

City manager Tom Leath credits Hirsch and Stradinger for setting the city on its current path.

“A lot of the building blocks that we now are getting the fruits of were laid by David Stradinger and Bob Hirsch,” Leath said. “Some of the things that they put into place were light years ahead in terms of thinking and really put Myrtle Beach in a position to be what we are today.”

Hirsch said he’s proud of the work the council did with the help of the city manager to implement important building regulations.

“We were able to update our codes to ensure that our construction at the beach would meet national standards and sustain any natural disasters,” he said. “We were getting ourselves into the big leagues as far as construction.”

Stradinger said he thinks a lot of things were accomplished under the leadership of Hirsch and his successor, former Mayor Eric Ficken.

“We crossed a lot of bridges and dealt with a lot of controversial things,” Stradinger said, referring to certain sign ordinances and the creation of the Community Appearance Board. “They just needed to be done at that time.”

‘Not a politician’

Hirsch said he worked to put some building code and ordinances in place when he served as director of planning, zoning and building before he ran for mayor. Once the initial set of regulations were in place, he recalls rejecting an applicant that didn’t meet the requirements.

“The mayor and council granted the building permit anyway,” he said. “I quit.”

Hirsch then began to work as the manager of engineering at AVX Corp. He said it was the belief that the city needed professional management that caused him to run for mayor – as well as those who knew him urging him to do so. He served as mayor from 1974 to 1978.

“I wanted to make my contribution to the city and then go on with my career,” he said. “I was not a politician. I did not want politics as a career.”

Hirsch served one term and then left politics for a while. He returned to local politics and was serving as a council member in the late 80s when Leath became city manager.

Stradinger and Leath said working with Hirsch was easy because he had served as a staff member before becoming mayor.

“He knew were staff was coming from and he was supportive of our efforts,” Leath said.

Stradinger said he enjoyed working with Hirsch.

“Bob was an engineer and he understood issues as it related to the nuts and bolts of city government,” Stradinger said.

Hirsch said he disagrees with the idea of a career politician, adding that he believes it’s important to get new people into government to keep ideas fresh and keep the city moving forward.

“It’s good to get new blood in there and get people to do the job and then get back to their careers,” he said.

He said he’s kept an eye on city government over the years but has chosen to remain an observer.

“When you’re in there you do your job and when you’re out you let the people who are in there do their jobs,” he said.

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