Horry County Council chair candidates Mark Lazarus and Johnny Gardner on Wednesday had their chance to tell voters why each of them is more deserving of your vote.
Lazarus, the incumbent, focused on his record. Newcomer attorney Johnny Gardner told the crowd that he had the backing of police and firefighters, and said he planned to spread money around the county instead of only certain areas.
"I got into this chairman’s race for a lot of the same reasons that I went to law school," Gardner told the crowd during a Carolina Forest Civic Association meeting. "I think the average person in Horry County isn’t getting a fair shake. Certain geographic areas of this county have been ignored for the last five years. I’m gonna tell you something, if I’m elected as chairman, I’m not going to ignore Carolina Forest."
Gardner cited what he calls the three 'R's of responsibility, reform, and respect, as tenets of his campaign. He brought up Lazarus' recent endorsement by coastal mayors, and said he wasn't concerned about it.
"We have a couple of endorsements ourselves," Gardner said. "We’ve been endorsed by the firefighters and we’ve been endorsed by law enforcement. I like my endorsements the best."
Staffing and pay issues in Horry County's police and fire departments have been central to Gardner's campaign, and he's received public endorsements from both the South Carolina Professional Fire Fighters Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.
County council has attempted to alleviate some of those concerns by giving raises to both police and firemen in an attempt to attract and retain more employees, who often leave for better-paying jobs such as those in Myrtle Beach, where police and firefighters earn more.
"Firefighters, law enforcement, they’re not politicians, they’re not running for office," Gardner said. "The only thing they’re running into is quite possibly harm’s way to make our lives better and to make Horry County a safer place to live. They’re not asking anything in return except for a living wage and a little bit of respect. If I’m elected chairman, we’re going to give that to them."
But Lazarus countered, citing his work keeping firefighters when we was first elected chair in 2013.
"Over the years that I’ve been chairman, we have given a raise every year, we’ve added 19 new positions in the police, we added 15 new positions in the fire," he said. "We’ve put $5 million worth of new equipment on the road."
Lazarus said the county kept firefighters positions that they could have lost had he not worked to save them.
"We’ve saved 18 firefighters because they were under a grant that we were getting ready to lose when I became chairman," Lazarus said. "And we fought and we made it happen to where we retained those, plus we added 15 new positions."
In addition, Lazarus pointed to infrastructure projects started under his tenure as chair, like funding for the Carolina Forest Boulevard widening project, and extending International Drive.
"I can tell you Coastal Conservation League, they were going to fight us tooth and nail all the way," he said. "But because of my leadership skills, my negotiating abilities and my business acumen, we were able to take them down, and guess what, International Drive will be open … by June 29."
The primary election will be held on June 12.
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian