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Gardner celebrates election win, talks need for change

Johnny Gardner said he'll celebrate and spend time with family this week, but he'll start meeting with local leaders next week to talk possibilities for his vision as Horry County Council Chairman. (Taggart Houck/WPDE)

Come January, Johnny Gardner will lead Horry County Council.

“I grew up here, and I was under the belief that the average person was not getting the fair shake in Horry County,” said Gardner in his office Monday.

The Conway lawyer for more than 25 years said he had no plans to go into politics. A few months ago, after walking into the courthouse and talking to county employees, he made a decision.

“I could sense there was a huge disconnect between county leaders and the county workers,” he said.

And so, he filed to run. Saturday, he found out he defeated incumbent Chairman Mark Lazarus by a narrow margin of 113 votes.

Monday, he said he didn’t forget about what pushed him to run.

“Public safety is my priority one, day one,” he said. “And that hasn’t changed.”

Some people said the support from first responders awarded him a narrow victory, earning endorsements from first responder groups.

“When the firefighters and the police got on board, it accelerated a good bit,” he admitted about his campaign support.

Public safety tensions stemmed from the current Horry County Council and Chairman Mark Lazarus.

Some first responders argued Lazarus could have done more with county fire department issues, like staffing.

“Mr. Lazarus did not want to hear any solutions, did not want to listen to anyone, did not want assistance from anyone, thought he had it fixed and Mr. Gardner was more than willing to at least listen to people,” said Robert Mullaney, president of the Horry County Professional Firefighters.

Lazarus denied that, saying his administration is good about supporting public safety.

“Five million dollars worth of new fire equipment, five percent raises across the board for our class one officers, raises every year to all personnel since we’ve been here,” he said, Saturday during his concession speech.

He said his administration added 19 new police officers and 15 new firefighter positions and secured $5 million worth of fire equipment, all without raising taxes.

Monday, Gardner gave credit to Lazarus, but said it was time for change.

“I’m gonna give it everything I can to help the county and if I can’t, then I won’t get elected again. But if I do and I get elected again, we’ll just try to get better and better,” he said.

Gardner said he’ll also focus cutting county costs and using money where it can be used effectively. He wanted to take a closer look at the budget. Gardner also talked about cutting slush fund monies for County Council members and allocating Ride II funds to other area, like public safety.

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