Gilland won't defend position as Horry Co. chair

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County Chairwoman Liz Gilland has announced Tuesday night she will not be defending her position as the county's top leader at a regularly scheduled Horry County Council meeting.

While the official filing period for the Horry County Council chairman position has not officially started, two candidates -- Councilmen Bob Grabowski and Howard Barnard -- have already thrown in their bids for the race. The early announcements left many, including Gilland herself, wondering if she'd attempt to extend her term.

Throughout the days and weeks of personal deliberation on her future, Gilland said Tuesday it was the right time to back out of what she called an "ugly political scene."

"I watched the Myrtle Beach election last fall, and it was as ugly as I've ever seen a political election be," she recalled. "It was uncomfortably ugly to me."

Gilland said Tuesday evening she was reflecting in the Bible not long before making her decision. She says she's "at peace" with her decision to leave her position as county chairwoman.

"I have a real peace about it and I know I'm making the right decision," she said. "The path is turning and it's going outside of the political arena."

Whether or not the chairwoman's path was influenced by a string of negative publicity is anyone's guess, but Gilland contends her decision was based on personal factors.

"People won't believe it, but none of the headlines last fall affected this decision at all," Gilland reinforced.

The chairwoman came under much scrutiny in recent months after a controversy surrounding over $300,000 in South Carolina Ethics Commission fines and a warning ticket for speeding on Sept. 29, 2009. Gilland says she received the fines because of forms she did not submit to the Ethics Commission during her 2006 re-election campaign.

Disclosure contribution claims were not filed because Gilland says she did not receive any contributions during those time periods. The lack of contributions, she claims, caused her to be unaware she had to file a report.

"OK, I drive too fast every now and then," she said Tuesday after her announcement. "I didn't do the correct paperwork for the Ethics Commission. None of it had to do with how I do my job."

Had Gilland chosen to defend her position within Horry County politics, her competition says it would have been an uphill battle for the two-term chair.

"I think it's so important that we need somebody who will look at the big picture. I think I can do that," said Grabowski. "I can look at the big picture and the long range plan and make decisions that will benefit the people of Horry County in the long run."

Grabowski represents District 6, which includes the Socastee area, and serves as chairman of the Public Safety Committee, while Barnard represents District 5, which includes Garden City and Surfside. He says his experience on many of the council committees gives him an edge.

"I think you have to ask who has the most experience," said Barnard. "On current council right now, I'm the only one that's served on infrastructure regulation, administration, as well as public safety."

As both Grabowski and Barnard continue to keep their eye on the ultimate prize -- Gilland's position -- what's next for the soon-to-be former chairwoman? Gilland says she'll keep working as hard as she can and in an honest manner until it's time to step away from the political ring once and for all.

"I don't have any plans. I would love -- I mean, I'm a great cheerleader for the county. I could work with tourism somehow or economic development, even helping people who are trying to find their way through the political process," she said.

Gilland is expected to hold Horry County's top post until December.

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