‘Calling out rights and wrongs’: DiSabato confronts Gardner over committee positions

Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner speaks during an open session meeting at the Horry County Courthouse Friday.
Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner speaks during an open session meeting at the Horry County Courthouse Friday. jbell@thesunnews.com

County Council member Dennis DiSabato said he felt wronged at the end of Thursday’s council meeting. And he took the final moments of council to air his grievances with the new chairman.

The representative from District 3, which is mostly contained to the Carolina Forest area, thought he was going to be named the chair of the Public Safety Committee. He said he found out moments before the meeting started he would not be the new chair of that committee.

Overall, the second Horry County Council meeting was quiet and quick-moving, except for when DiSabato publicly called out Chair Johnny Gardner for misleading him, he said.

“You, sir, asked me to be the chair of public committee,” DiSabato said. “However, for reasons unbeknownst to me, you have changed your mind at the last minute.”

Council divides itself into several committees to vet ideas, resolutions and ordinances before they’re presented before the entire council. While no formal decisions are made, the ordinances do get a recommendation, either favorable or not favorable.

It is Gardner’s decision as council chair as to who serves on which committee, and, per the rules, he can change his mind whenever he wants leading up to the decision being announced. Gardner said the decision for who would be on which committee was one of the toughest things he’s ever done, but he feels his picks are the best for the county.

“I did what I thought was best for the county,” Gardner said. “And I’m sure it’s going to not make everyone happy, and I am sorry about that but it is my prerogative.”

On Thursday, Gardner announced Danny Hardee would chair the Public Safety Committee. DiSabato was not given a chair position, but will serve on the Administration Committee.

All four committee chairs are from districts west of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Gardner said he did not realize all his picks were western council members. People often consider there to be a divide between the needs of the more rural western part of Horry and the attention of the urban, touristy areas near the ocean.

DiSabato said he originally asked Gardner to be the chair of the Infrastructure & Regulation Committee since it was open following Harold Phillips losing his election. Gardner instead asked him to serve as the chair of Public Safety Committee, a position he said he was happy with and wanted to find new solutions to help public safety.

“I’ve been very vocal about finding ways, creatively, to fund public safety,” DiSabato said.

He spoke to Gardner several times after he was asked, and Gardner did not indicate he had changed his mind, he said.

“I believe in calling out rights and wrongs,” DiSabato said. “You don’t tell people you will do one thing and then do another.”

About 10 minutes before Thursday’s meeting, DiSabato learned he was not going to be given the position.

“This evening before the meeting he pulled me aside and said he was going into a different direction with no real explanation as to why,” he said.

DiSabato said he felt this was emblematic of the same “play along to get along” politics that Gardner ran against and felt it was cowardly how the county chair handled the appointments. DiSabato said he hopes it wasn’t a politics thing, but it could be politically driven.

Gardner did not want to comment on what happened, but said he did change his mind from what he originally told DiSabato. He did not deny initially asking DiSabato to be the chair.

“I don’t want to comment on particular council members, he said what he said,” Gardner said. “It’s the chairman’s sole responsibility to do it, and he had to do it at this meeting.”

DiSabato said this would not affect his ability to work with the new chairman, and his goal to represent his district has not changed. But public safety employees, he said, lost a tireless advocate.

“I’ll work with Mr. Gardner, my responsibility is to the people of District 3 and the rest of Horry County,” DiSabato said. “I will continue to lead.”

Overall, despite the public call-out from one of his own council members, Gardner said he thought the meeting went well.

“I’m thrilled,” he said, when asked if he was happy with how Thursday’s meeting went.