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'We've got a whole lot more important issues:' Councilman questions support of chairman

Councilman Al Allen proudly displays his "Team Horry" hat in his office. He says it's time for council to think about what that means again. (Taggart Houck/WPDE)

Horry County Councilman Al Allen said he is shocked.

“I’ve served under three different chairpersons and I’ve never seen any one of those other three be challenged as aggressively and arrogantly as this incoming chairman has been," he said Thursday in an exclusive interview.

Allen said some members of the Horry County Council are working together to discredit and disrespect new Council Chairman Johnny Gardner.

The disrespect, Allen said, started when new chairman Johnny Gardner suggested changing where council members sit during meetings to help the audience more easily find their councilman.

In emails obtained, Councilman Harold Worley wrote that at least seven members want to stay where they are.

Worley proposed an ordinance that would keep members in their current seats and proposed establishing a permanent seating arrangement.

“No one else has ever been challenged on this," Allen said. "I was asked twice in the past 12 years by other council chairmen, would I move, would I give up my seat? And my answer was yes, I’ll do whatever it takes for the team to help move this council forward. Undoubtedly, some of them are not team members.”

Allen said council members shouldn't be trying to change the privilege the council chairman has in choosing seats or even worrying about where people sit.

“We’ve got a whole lot more important issues and urgent, pressing issues that need to be addressed," he said.

Allen admitted he didn't vote for Gardner, but said it is time to support him.

“He was not expected to win, but the people’s will spoke and he won and it’s time for us to help put all of those bygones and stuff behind us,” he said.

Tensions were already high among council members after last week's special called meeting.

At that meeting Friday, Gardner wanted to go into executive session to talk about a personnel matter.

However, the meeting quickly derailed after Councilman Johnny Gardner tried to change the point of the discussion.

At that time, Councilman Harold Worley jumped in to try to stop any discussions about firing the county administrator. Worley cited a 1975 law that states the county administrator gets five days notice when a council is looking to fire or suspend that person.

Allen said he researched the law after the meeting and found that Worley wasn't using the most updated law and that council can fire or suspend any administrator without notice.

“County council has authority at any time without announcement to call a special meeting in regards to anything. It even states that inside our own council ordinances, locally,” he said.

He also questioned why County Attorney Ariggo Carotti didn't inform council on the most up-to-date law.

Allen said Friday's meeting wasn't called for the purpose of talking about the county administrator's job in executive session.

"They just assumed that the new incoming chairman called that meeting out of spite, but it wasn’t," he said. "It was called at the request of several other council members [after] taking with the chairman.”

And, he said the chaos kept him, and others, from being able to ask about the SLED investigation.

The county administrator and attorney asked SLED to look into claims of extortion involving Chairman Johnny Gardner and Gardner's campaign manager.

Allen said he questions the timing of the investigation.

“I don’t know what the outcome will be. I know from what I have read and what I have heard and what I suspect, and it appears to be a lot of confusion and an attempt to embarrass this new incoming chairman and to cause disruption on this council," he said.

After the SLED investigation is complete, Allen said the council should order its own investigation.

"We need to conduct our own investigation, without the county administrator involved or the county involved," he said. "County Council needs to get to the bottom of this and ask these questions: Why hasn’t the county been briefed on this; Why hasn’t something been done in order to call our staff into order and why hasn’t the entire home rule been researched and presented to our council?”

Worley did not return phone calls.

The county administrator and the county attorney declined our request for interview.

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