Last week as a member of the Horry County Council Was insisting Councilor Dennis Disabat was nervous about how the council meeting was treated.
Reply to Email from Council Chair Johnny Gardner — Gardner accuses of moving to Disabato Early termination of the May 4 council meeting — DiSabato has revealed that it has requested county lawyers to draft a new ordinance prohibiting county officials, council members, and their close relatives from obtaining paid contracts with the county.
“The intention here is chairman, chairman,” wrote Disabato. “Protecting the council’s individuals and preventing them from over-public surveillance of perceived fraud resulting from such activities.”
Currently, the only councilor who has a contract with Holly County is councilor Al Allen. He co-owns Allen Aviation, a crop and mosquito spraying business, with his wife, Shanda Allen, a member of the county’s school board, and has a $ 77,000 contract with the county for mosquito spraying. .. Allen’s efforts to obtain and publish information about how Holly County will pay outside lawyers are the main reasons Disabat and other council members have moved to close the May 4 meeting early. was. Some council members believe that DiSabato’s proposed ordinance is a retaliation against Allen. Allen states that he will comply with all legal and ethical rules to ensure that his contract with the county is exceeded.
Still, DiSabato said this week that county officials continued to work on the ordinance.
It raises an important issue: members of the county council Last week’s drama, Is anyone willing to vote for such a Conflict of Interest Ordinance?
According to an interview with a majority of the council, members are divided on this issue and it is not clear if the Conflict of Interest Ordinance has a way forward in Holly County. Some people think that such measures are necessary, others think that existing ethical laws are sufficient, and others say that they need to read the ordinance once it is written to decide whether to vote. There is.
And if two council members who were able to control the fate of the ordinance-Johnny Vort, who chairs the council’s steering committee, and Gardner, who sets the council’s agenda, vote. Said that it might be best to wait to vote for the ordinance.
In summary, this could mean that tensions among members of the county council continue to boil without taking formal action to eradicate or fight the controversies that have arisen in recent weeks.
Such conflict of interest laws are fairly common in the United States and are often part of a broader ethical law. Even if a group of parliamentarians does not immediately create a conflict of interest, such a law allows them to trust their representatives and allows civil servants to serve the public rather than make money from their standpoint. Inform the public that you are there. In South Carolina, civil servants are not prohibited from entering into private business contracts with their government, State ethics outlines specific steps Those officials must take to avoid conflict, including rejecting themselves from votes that include their business.
How and Why the Conflict of Interest Ordinance Occurred
Understanding is important to understand why the Horry County Council can vote for the Conflict of Interest Ordinance. The latest battle between members..
A few weeks ago, according to Allen, some local lawyers asked him a question. How can they win a contract to do legal work for Holly County and the local government? The county has an internal team of lawyers who handle a myriad of legal, litigation, and other issues, but the county regularly contracts with outside lawyers to assist.Recent examples include hiring an outside law firm to investigate nuisance. Massage parlor, And assist the county in proceedings against Myrtle Beach and other municipalities Hospitality fee..
According to Allen, when he was looking for information to answer a lawyer’s question, he learned that the county had paid more than $ 1.2 million for legal services from outside lawyers over the past three years. Allen then looked for a list of lawyers and law firms that the county paid for, and the amount paid for each.
At Allen’s request, several people said, Holly County lawyer Aligot Carotti edited the information, but releasing it immediately could give part of the county’s legal strategy. I felt. According to Vaught, Carotti approached him as to whether or not to disclose the information, as Vaught’s committee is responsible for deciding the disclosure of the information. Vaught said he consulted with a few other council members and decided that council members should first review the information privately and then vote on whether to make it public. ..
However, Allen disagreed with the tactic and said the information should be disclosed without the council first considering and voting. Allen also claimed that county officials and other council members were preventing him from reviewing the information, but Vort and others said it was not true. Allen attended the meeting on the morning of May 4 to personally confirm the lawyer’s information, but went out after seeing other council members there, Vort and colleagues said. It was. Allen then asked Gardner to put the item on the agenda of the council that night, where the information could be made public and discussed. Gardner mandated the request.
However, other council members were afraid that Allen would raise public concerns about the lawyer in the county, or if he did not first consider the lawyer information. Some county officials fear that Allen would then ask the county manager to dismiss Carotti, and if he refused, he might demand that he be dismissed. I told Sun News. ,Also.
“It seemed to me that they wanted an out-of-the-box information dump, and the only reason you do that is to make someone look bad,” Disabat said last week.
Some council members said they wanted to avoid such a situation, so DiSabato called for the meeting to end before the council discussed attorney’s fee information, and eventually the meeting ended early. Two years ago, in early 2019, the council was involved in another effort to expel county managers at the request of Allen and Gardner.
However, Gardner was furious at Disabat’s actions and told him in an email that Sunnews got a copy of it.
“You are not a judge about what will or will not be discussed at a council meeting,” Gardner wrote to Disabato later in the week. “I guarantee that the discussion about county statutory costs will be included in the agenda of the next meeting. You may try some tricks to thwart that discussion again, but I think you will next time. I don’t think I’ll get a majority of Congress to support you. “
In response, Disabat questioned Gardner’s council leadership.
“Since taking office, you have taken these opportunities to put political pressure on Congress and take action to promote your own agenda. I am with other members of this Council. I saw this as another such opportunity, “writes Disabato. “In fact, you have lost all control of this council and have not been able to effectively guide this governing body since you were elected.”
It was in the same email that DiSabato said it was trying to introduce an ordinance banning Congress from conflicts of interest.
What do council members think about the ordinance?
Sun News attempted to interview each member of the county council to determine if the DiSabato ordinance could move forward and become a law. Nine of the twelve members provided their opinions and comments on the proposed ordinance. Two members, Harold Wally and Tyler Servant, did not respond to requests for comment. Allen refused to comment on this issue.
Three of the people who provided comments, including Di Sabato, support the measure. The four members said the ordinance should first be considered to determine if it can be upheld. The other two said they suspected that such measures were needed for the council to adopt it.
“The issue has been dealt with by the state, there is already enough law there,” Gardner said of the proposed action. “I don’t think it’s necessary. It may be redundant.”
Vaught, who the commission first votes for the ordinance, said he generally supported such ordinances, but said that members of the council wanted to “heal some wounds” first.
“I’ve considered such things before, but there wasn’t a real consensus to do that, so I don’t think it’s happening without consensus,” he said. “We don’t need that awareness there (conflict of interest), but for now it looks like Dennis is fighting back against Al. If it wasn’t in that context, I would say it I think I was able to take it into consideration. “
Councilor Gary Loftus, one of the other members who said he supported the ordinance, said that even if Allen’s contract meets all ethical and legal standards, it creates a sense of conflict and external bidding. He said it could discourage people from applying for a contract.
“You are not elected to the county council to sign a contract from the county. It’s that easy,” he said. “It discourages external bids.”
Councilor Danny Hardy said Allen’s business contract with the county was not a problem, and legally and ethically, it would be okay for the authorities to have such a contract. It was.
“I don’t want anyone to do anything illegal, but as I said, as long as they do it ethically and do it legally, I’m fine with it,” he said. Said. “The best thing for the county is how I vote.”
Councilor Mark Cozy said he didn’t think such an ordinance was necessary at first.
“As long as Al has a contract, it’s been tested. They didn’t find any fraud,” Cozy said, referring to a previous state investigation into Allen’s spray contract. “I don’t know if I need to go that way.”
Other council members, including Bill Howard, Cam Crawford, and Orton Bellamy, said the ordinance should be considered before commenting on it, and such issues are still covered by state ethical law. He said he wanted to make sure it wasn’t.
Allen refused to comment on the story, but defended his business and county contract in an email to Disabat last week. In that message, Allen explained that he founded his business in 2001 after he stopped working in the department of the county sheriff, who was his adjutant. He said he had won, lost, and again won a contract to spray mosquitoes with the county before he won a seat in the council in 2006. Since then, he has won contracts many times and said he declined to vote. He needs to In addition, Allen said the state’s ethics committee investigated the relationship with the county and eliminated fraud.
“Allen Airlines has other public contracts with other government agencies and will work to protect its interests from any attack,” Allen wrote to Disabat. “If you are threatening or accusating a private company or other councilors, immediately take a cease and desist and ask other owners and employees of Allen Aviation to apologize. “
What happened now
At this time, it is not clear when Congress will vote for the proposed Conflict of Interest Ordinance. Vaught said it would never happen this month, but it could happen in the coming months.
“I’m definitely not going to put it on my next agenda,” Vaught said. “Now we have repaired our knees and now we have enough fences to put out such things.”
However, according to the agenda, discussions on Allen’s contract, though not a Disabato ordinance, are scheduled for Tuesday’s council. DiSabato states that he requested “discussion on the use of public funds and the awarding of contracts to organizations owned by council members or their close relatives.”
Mr Disabat said this week he was still considering moving the ordinance forward, but did not know when Congress would take action against it.
“I don’t know what the timeline is,” he said. “It’s not happening, how is it?”