John Thomas is the new chairman of Georgetown County Council, and Lillie Jean Johnson will serve as vice chairwoman. The two were elected at the beginning of the first meeting of the year on Tuesday.
Thomas is the first Waccamaw Neck resident to serve as chairman of council, at least in recent memory.
Austin Beard, immediate past vice chairman of council, was home sick on doctor’s orders and did not attend the meeting. Beard had earlier indicated his interest in becoming chairman, but decided not to seek the position in the wake of allegations that he no longer resides in District 5 – covering Andrews and the western and northwestern part of the county.
With former chairman Johnny Morant’s retirement, the various pieces to get the meeting underway were complex.
Louis Morant ran unopposed in the November election to succeed his brother in District 7 – which runs from a little north of the City of Georgetown to the Horry County line, and westward through much of the county.
Before council's meeting Tuesday, Clerk of Court Alma White administered the oath of office to returning councilmen John Thomas and Steve Goggans. Johnny Morant swore in his brother Louis to his first term.
There was a bit of a break before the regularly-scheduled meeting got underway, and then a delay as county staff worked to get all the microphones and speakers in Council Chambers working.
And then – who’s to conduct the opening of the meeting?
As yet, there was no chairman, and the vice chairman was absent.
County Attorney Wesley Bryant opened the meeting once the microphones were working and conducted the election for chairman. Once the vote was taken Thomas took over his new duties and conducted the election for vice chairman and the rest of the brief session – less than 45 minutes.
Due to the controversy surrounding Beard’s residency, Council had deferred action on several agenda items to the next meeting on Jan. 22.
A total of eight people signed up for public comment on two issues: one was Beard’s residency and the other was on a change in the planned development for Marlin Quay Marina in Garden City Beach.
For Marlin Quay Marina store and restaurant, a proposed change to the planned development was up for third and final reading.
George W. Redman III, an attorney for Gulfstream Café adjacent to the Marlin Quay property, spoke in opposition to the marina project, saying “The Gulfstream Café is primarily here in a defensive posture.”
“The county is being asked to side with one developer for a councilman’s project,” he alleged. “People are going to be endangered and Gulfstream Café is going to be forced to protect its rights.”
Councilman Steve Goggans’ architecture firm is designer of the Marlin Quay project. He has recused himself for discussions, presentations and votes on the matter each time it has been before Council.
Dan Stacy, attorney with Oxner and Stacy law firm, spoke on behalf of the Marlin Quay project.
He noted the project has been underway for three years.
“Consistently, your planning staff has approved this project. Also, the zoning board of appeals and the building department. We are building back the same square footage as before.”
Continuing, Stacy said, “Consistently, the opposition to this project has provided false information.... Also, consistently, when the response is not what they desire, they consistently threatened legal action.”
Dr. Mark Lawhon of Palmetto Industrial Development, LLC, owner of the Marlin Quay project, also spoke.
He said that Gulfstream Café’s attorney said in open court that the square footage of the proposed new building is within the same footprint of the building that was demolished.
Once the demolition was complete, he said, they sued. “They’ve held us up any way they can,” Lawhon said. “They’re a bunch of bullies. They bullied me and my son for three years.”
Lawson said he came from a small rural crossroads community. He didn’t inherit wealth, he said, but his dad left me “a legacy of doing right.”
“My dad said be fair, be honest and be straightforward.”
Following the public comment period, the third reading of the Marlin Quay Marina ordinance was called for. There was no discussion and the motion to approve final reading was carried by a unanimous vote.
Following adjournment, the Georgetown Times asked Thomas when he decided to seek the chairmanship of County Council.
“When Austin (Beard) decided he was not going to seek the position,” Thomas said.
“What I saw in his (prospective) chairmanship was a continuation of the Johnny Morant legacy. It’s about seeking consensus. I want to continue that way of doing business. I’d like to continue that way of business that Johnny Morant was so good at.”