Horry County politics are going viral locally, and not in the cute video of police officers lip-syncing kind of way.
The latest story to flash across many Horry residents’ Facebook feeds was a debate over seating arrangements. Ahead of Thursday night’s meeting of the council, emails between council members debating a new seating arrangement were sent out by Councilman Al Allen to members of the media, eventually making their way to being shared directly on social media. The debate was over a proposed plan from new county Chair Johnny Gardner wanting council members to sit in a new order.
As it stands, the council members do not sit in any real order. Gardner said in an email he wanted to change the seating arrangements to create more order and to help people understand which district the council members represent.
“I was thinking of the people, not council,” Gardner wrote in response to Councilman Harold Worley.
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Worley said seven of the 12 council members want to keep the seating arrangements the same. Gary Loftus, Bill Howard, Tyler Servant and Cam Crawford said it is their right as council members to vote to keep it that way.
If seven members do vote to keep the seating arrangement, it’ll be enough votes to maintain the status quo. Worley went on to ask the county staff to make a permanent seating arrangement, taking the power away from council.
Worley told The Sun News that this was a discussion on clarifying county rules, that’s it. He will sit wherever he is asked to, but for some long-running council members like himself, they’ve sat in the same spot for decades.
“Let’s amend the rules so this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “I have no axe to grind with the new chairman.”
Servant agreed with Worley, posting on Facebook he would sit wherever he is asked to. He added this was a distraction from the important issues Horry County faces.
“With all of the important items that should be the focus of our council and the public, it seems silly how seating location has become the dominant focus,” he wrote.
In the emails that are circulating, Allen said from his 12 years on council, he had never seen a group so determined to undermine the new chairman. While he supported former Chair Mark Lazarus’ re-election campaign, he believes it’s best for the county to get behind its new leader for the sake of the people.
“This type of behavior will embarrass this council and cost some of you dearly in the media and the public’s perception of you as an elected official,” he wrote in an email Wednesday night.
The public response to the emails, generally, was one of amusement, sparking videos and posts of people questioning why this was such a big deal.
Worley said debating council issues on social media didn’t previously happen to the same degree it is now. Discussing the issues over email, within the confines of the law, is an important step in getting things done and understanding where the other council members stand, he said.
“I was absolutely floored,” Worley said about seeing the emails discussed online.
The debate of who sits where is not the main event going on in Horry County right now. As it stands, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating an alleged extortion attempt involving Gardner and members from the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.
The investigation is ongoing, but that hasn’t stopped the use of social media in debating who is at fault even before official word is released. After an online campaign to lobby council members to fire County Administrator Chris Eldridge, Gardner called a meeting on Jan. 4 to hold an executive session to discuss in private personnel matters.
The meeting never entered executive session nor was any decision made. The debate got caught up in procedural rules of how to handle potentially suspending a county administrator. At this meeting, Allen supported doing the debates in public, but voted to go into executive session.
“Let’s just open up Pandora’s box because this county has been embarrassed,” Allen said last week.