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Horry County calls closed meeting hours after new chairman shares critical cartoon

Meet newly-elected Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner

Gardner is a life long Horry County resident graduating from Coastal Carolina. The only time he has spent away was while serving in the 82nd Airborne, reaching the rank of Captain, and then while attending the University of South Carolina Law School.
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Gardner is a life long Horry County resident graduating from Coastal Carolina. The only time he has spent away was while serving in the 82nd Airborne, reaching the rank of Captain, and then while attending the University of South Carolina Law School.

Newly sworn-in Horry County Chair Johnny Gardner’s first meeting of his new job will happen behind closed doors to discuss a personnel matter. While the meeting will be in executive session, the announcement comes an hour after Gardner shared on Facebook a cartoon criticizing the County Administrator Chris Eldridge and County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.

Horry County Council’s special meeting will be at 2 p.m. Friday to discuss an employment matter.

The prayer and the pledge will be public at the meeting, but the only agenda item for discussion is an executive session. The released agenda for the meeting said council will have a “discussion of employment, appointment, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, or release of an employee.”

Executive sessions are for the legal team and county administrators to speak directly with council about sensitive information or legal affairs. Any decision made must be made public after the session ends.

The County Council is responsible for the hiring and review of the county administrator.

The cartoon Gardener shared on his social media page was drawn by local Ed Wilson and depicts Carotti and Eldridge using a magnify glass to make a pile labeled “Gardner Extortion Claims.” Eldridge is drawn saying “see it is a mountain.” The cartoon implies Eldridge and Carotti are exaggerating the evidence against Gardner from a memo leaked last month.

Gardner said to The Sun News he did not personally post the cartoon onto his page, but said he takes accountability for whatever content is on his site. He also said he would not comment on personnel matters like this one.

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The memo was made public by FITSNews, a political and culture blog ran out of Columbia. It outlined allegations that Gardner and his associate Luke Barefoot tried to extort two representatives from the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, president Sandy Davis and director of investor relations Sherri Steele.

The story was published Dec. 20, hours before Gardner was sworn in as the new council chairman. The memo was written by Carotti and sent to council members labeled as “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVLIDGED.” It contained an email from Eldridge saying this was a big deal that could not be overlooked.

The Sun News has confirmed the memo is legitimate, but it’s unknown who leaked the five-page document.

Barefoot and Gardner have denied any wrongdoing, while Davis said a lot in the FITSNews reporting was wrong. Eldridge and Carotti declined to comment on the memo.

The South Carolina Department of Law Enforcement Divisions is investigating the claims of extortion, per the request of Eldridge. The Sun News reached out to SLED to see if there is any update on the investigation but has yet to receive a response.

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