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Are political antics in Surfside Beach endangering funding for its pier?

Surfside Beach Mayor Bob Childs is worried that a tumultuous environment on town council could discourage state funding for the town’s iconic pier. The pier lost 300 feet during Hurricane Matthew last October.
Surfside Beach Mayor Bob Childs is worried that a tumultuous environment on town council could discourage state funding for the town’s iconic pier. The pier lost 300 feet during Hurricane Matthew last October. jblackmon@thesunnews.com

A perception of mayhem among Surfside Beach Town Council members could get in the way of requests for state support on crucial projects like the rebuilding of its iconic pier, Mayor Bob Childs said in an executive session on Aug. 20.

“Our funding for that pier is in danger...I spoke to the [state representatives]. They said if we get a reputation as a dysfunctional city, the state will look twice at funding any money we’re looking for,” Childs said.

Childs shared the concern from lawmakers in a closed session that was recorded with the knowledge of the attendees. The audio recording has since become public, spurring Childs to announce that officials will pursue a criminal investigation into who made the conversation public.

He also said that the recent news out of Surfside and its divided town council is spreading.

Republican State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, whose district covers Surfside, said the environment created by town leaders is “not helpful” as the town’s delegation seeks funding.

“Nobody wants to give money to a town that has the appearance that it doesn’t know how to spend money,” he said.

Surfside made headlines after Saturday’s special town council meeting. It was held to discuss the fate of the town’s administrator, who ultimately left the meeting with her job intact. The gathering was called by four town council members without notifying Childs and the other two members of the panel first.

Three days later at a regularly scheduled council meeting, three members of town advisory boards spontaneously quit their posts.

“Everybody that’s not in town can read what’s going on, and the dysfunction in the town is of concern to anybody that has to do any kind of dealings with the town,” Childs told The Sun News. He declined to say which members of the local delegation had expressed concern to him.

The town’s biggest such request in the near future will be to rebuild its iconic pier, a project that’s still in the planning stages but likely to cost millions of dollars.

“They’re going to be asking for a significant amount of money from the state for that project,” Goldfinch said.

Republican State Rep. Russell Fry, who also represents Surfside, said that money to repair damage from Hurricane Matthew has already been set aside, however. The storm ripped off roughly 300 feet of the pier last October.

“I think at least as far as the pier is concerned, funding is already in place statewide,” Fry said. “There’s no indication to me any of that money is dried up.”

Fry added that he thought that town was doing “a pretty good job.”

But Goldfinch also said the comments of some town council members have spread on social media and are earning the town a negative reputation. He declined to say which members of the panel had gained notice.

“Everybody, every politician across the state, especially state leaders, see these kind of things,” Goldfinch said.

Fry said he hadn’t heard anything that would discourage him from advocating for the town. Goldfinch said he was also committed to securing resources for Surfside, and that he hadn’t yet reached the point of losing confidence in town leaders.

“As long as Mayor Childs continues in his role there and continues to keep his thumb on this council, then I’m okay,” Goldfinch said. “If, for some reason, it gets further out of hand and he loses control of council then yeah, I would probably reach that point.”

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ

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