MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - With this year's elections for the city of Myrtle Beach rapidly approaching, there have been plenty of individuals who have tossed their hats into the ring.
Five candidates have filed for the mayor's seat and nine candidates have entered the race for three city council spots. All seats on the city council are at-large and city elections are non-partisan.
Mayor John Rhodes is seeking a fourth term in office. He faces challenges from former mayor Mark McBride who held that post for two terms until being unseated by Rhodes. Also running for mayor are Brenda Bethune, Ed Carey and C.D. Rozsa.
Incumbent city council members Randal Wallace and Mike Lowder have filed for re-election. Wallace is seeking a fifth term on the council and Lowder is vying for a third term. Council member Wayne Gray's term is up this year but he didn't file for re-election.
Others seeking one of the three council seats are Ann Dunham, Keith Van Winkle, Jackie Vereen, Mike Hobeika, Matthew Hardee, Gregg Smith and Brooks Myers.
The city election will be held Nov. 7, with winning candidates taking office in January.
The Herald reached out to the mayoral and council candidates and asked about their decision to run for office as well as their priorities would be if elected and any changes they would push to make.
This week's issue focuses on mayoral candidates. Look for profiles on council candidates in next week's issue.
Mayor John Rhodes, who has held the position since 2005, said he's seeking re-election because his vision for the city of Myrtle Beach is not yet fully realized.
"I feel that there are parts of my vision that I want to complete and I'd like to have the opportunity to go forward with that," he said.
"I look and see things that have been accomplished during my term as the mayor and I'm proud of them. When you look at the future though, there are things that need to be accomplished and I want to be that leader who helps drive that along with city council. This isn't a one-man show."
Rhodes said one thing the city has accomplished in recent years is the ability for members of city council to communicate efficiently amongst one another as well as with officials and legislators at the state and federal level in Columbia and Washington, D.C., respectively.
He stated that if re-elected, crime — which he said is prevalent not just in Myrtle Beach but everywhere— would remain as an issue on which to focus on, adding that he and city officials have tackled the problem in recent months and that it is impossible to halt crime altogether.
"We try to contain and control it as much as possible," he said.
He said that with the promotion of Amy Prock, who now leads Myrtle Beach police as chief, as well as the city's curfew extension, he and council have made some strides in attempting to stem crime.
"We have addressed that issue and I feel we have done a great job with our new police chief [Amy] Prock," he said. "We see [our efforts] working. More people are being arrested that don't need to be on the streets."
Economic development would be another priority for Rhodes if re-elected, he said.
"We'd like to bring investors into Myrtle Beach for some economic development," he said, adding that he hoped the additions of potential new structures going up within the city limits including hotels and condominiums could replace some of the older buildings in the area.
He stated that he would look at tweaks for the city's departments which he feels has run smoothly so far, also adding that city manager John Pedersen plays a vital role in any changes and decisions made going forward.
Rhodes stated that as mayor, he is still concerned for the city's image and working toward cleaning it up, adding that recent improvements in technology and widespread use of social media the city has brought forth negative effects.
"The smartphone is 10 years old and can do damage to the city's image. We've got people that are out there on the Internet not telling the truth … and people who have never said anything positive about Myrtle Beach," he said.
"All the bad info that goes out can hurt and downgrade the image of our city."
Ed Carey said he's running to be mayor of Myrtle Beach because the city's government is "out of control" and involved in too many activities that belong in the hands of private enterprise.
"Even worse, they consistently fail at job number one: the safety and security for citizens and visitors alike," he said.
Carey stated that his top priorities if elected mayor would include focusing on public safety and establishing a "safe and lawful" community, creating reasonable parking policies and streamlining government functions.
In terms of public safety — which he said must be the "number one" priority — if elected, Carey hopes to improve relations between the police and the community and increase and fund salaries of all public safety officials at or above competitive compensation levels.
He stated that even before addressing the question of how many new police officers the city should hire, which is "the same kind of knee-jerk reaction that has caused so many problems in Myrtle Beach," it is important to try and understand how and why the recent wave of crime has happened and why businesses and their employees are suffering.
"To suggest there is no blame to go around is to pretend and to cover up the truth," he said. "Our current city council's behavior is fully opaque instead of fully transparent. They deal with the issue in optics."
Carey said the "proof is in the pudding" when it comes to public safety and that the city as a hospitality and tourism sector has been negatively impacted.
"Public safety has been treated like the ugly stepchild of tourism," he said. "It is truly amazing that the official name of our tourism industry is called 'hospitality' in a city that has become inhospitable to almost everyone but drug dealers, prostitutes and criminals."
Carey said he was surprised at candidates believing that "he or she knows the right magic number" of additional police officers to be added to the Myrtle Beach Police Department or their function as well as when or where they should be added.
"I don't know if there's a magic number of 50, 100 or 200 new officers, but I intend to find out before I am sworn in. Frankly, we should all be stunned and disappointed that current leadership is unable to provide that number with great specificity," he said.
"In spite of all the bad things that have happened, it is obvious that this is simply not their priority, preferring instead to take expensive trips overseas supposedly for Chinese investors and tourists and then acting as some sort of real estate broker and arranging to sell them some of the finest beach property on the east coast."
If elected, Carey also said he will formalize his engagements with current and former public safety professionals into a mayor's council on public safety.
"That council's plan of action will be presented to city council during my first council meeting and will include an ordinance to provide immediate short-term actions that can be implemented until permanent solutions can be properly legislated," he said.
"Funding for adjusted levels of public safety personnel and appropriate compensation absolutely must be without restriction as to the source of funds."
Carey said his goals to fund public safety improvements if elected are not impossible and can be achieved under the city's current revenue stream.
"Everything is on the table as to how we spend the public's tax dollars. We must prioritize our expenditures across all departments and all programs in the city," he said. "This city has many pools of money that are presently off the table and that has to change from now on."
His role as mayor would include the creation of a county resident annual parking pass and free, safe and lit parking lots throughout the city on second or third rows from the ocean on currently underdeveloped parcels that the city can acquire that require no permits as well as the creation of clear residential parking policies.
In regards to streamlining government functions, another one of his priorities if elected, Carey said he'd combine some of the city's departments and commissions for efficiency and reduced costs as well as remove government roadblocks to the development process.
He added that another goal of his would be to decrease spending, taxes and overreach which he would do so by slashing spending on non-critical functions and eliminating license and tax policies that discourage small business growth.
Another focus would concern stormwater management and making certain that ocean waters are properly maintained.
Other long-term improvements that he would look toward making would be limiting the mayor and council members' terms to two four-year terms and moving elections to traditional even-numbered years.
He said that he'd also want council to operate with a combination of single member district and at-large seats.
He also said he'd hope to move council meetings to the evening, having the minutes from those meetings readily available online.
C.D. Rosza says he decided to run for mayor to give the people of Myrtle Beach a good option, an option who he says "can't be swayed by money."
"I decided to run for mayor to give people an option for a person who is a hard worker and understands the needs of the residents and business owners and to be a representative for them," he said. "They need a voice. It's way past time for that to happen. It's their city."
If elected, Rosza said he plans on getting a handle on drugs and crime and making Myrtle Beach "glorious again" and a place where people feel safe to vacation.
Another priority of his would be to review and revise the contracts the city has. Regarding the council itself and all of the contracts that are awarded by its members, there has been too much "shady stuff" he has seen, he said.
Another priority if elected, would be to acquire more police officers as well as more experienced officers on the force.
"A greater, stronger police presence is key in cutting down on violence and crime," Rosza said.
In terms of changes within city council, Rosza said he believes the city needs to return to having a strong-mayor form of council.
"It's a city manager and council run city and the mayor is nothing more than an at-large vote on city council and a figure head for the city as well as a scapegoat for when things go wrong," he said.
"It seems the city manager can sway council votes too easily. The people need an elected official in charge of the city and not someone who is hired. The mayor really doesn't have too much responsibility."
Rosza said another one if his priorities if elected mayor would be to look at how the city's funds are divided up and refocus
money from places that don't need as much as they get to places that need more.
"The Grand Strand Humane Society is a good example as they are way underfunded and they get very little help from the city," he said. "They rely on fund raisers and donations and even then they can barely scrape by.
He added that he planned on keeping track of other departments of the city and how they are working out.
"From what I see there seems to be no problems, but you don't know until you're behind the scenes and see what really goes on," Rosza said.
Brenda Bethune said she is running for mayor because as someone who was born and raised in the city and is now a small and large business owner, she sees a lot of potential for Myrtle Beach.
"I'm running because I want to serve our community in a way that will truly make a long lasting positive change and because I care about preserving our past, improving our present, and creating a future that will make our city the best it can be," she said.
"All of that takes vision and strategic planning and someone who knows how to bring it all together. I believe I am that person and that I will always do what is best for our community and our citizens."
Bethune added that her priorities if elected mayor would include economic development.
"The continued success of Myrtle Beach hinges on our attracting new businesses, small and large, as well as improving and maintaining the appearance of those we have," she said, adding that she would suggest implementing a business facade improvement plan that could involve offering financial or design assistance to small business owners as other cities have adopted similar programs successfully.
"When we improve and maintain our businesses we elevate the look of our community. This in turn helps us to attract new businesses. We must work to incentivize diverse businesses to invest here and make the process as hospitable and easy as possible."
Bethune said that if elected she would want the city to also focus on the International Technology and Aerospace Park (ITAP) in the Market Common in order to attract new businesses and industries to the area.
"This would help us expand the job pool by offering higher paying jobs in specialized fields," she said.
Another focus of Bethune if elected mayor regards downtown redevelopment.
"Our downtown area also known the Superblock must be an attractive, clean, welcoming gateway into our city," she said. "The area is located in our main visitor zone and it should be thriving."
Bethune said that the city needs to develop "a strategic plan that can be implemented successfully" regarding the Superblock.
"This may involve public and private partnerships offering reasonable incentives to attract the right businesses to locate in the area, and working with existing property owners to be involved in the process and to maintain their properties," she said.
She said some of the buildings on the Superblock are "the only history we have left" and must be preserved if at all possible.
"The domino effect of economic development and downtown redevelopment is that when we clean up our businesses and attract new businesses and breathe life back into our downtown, we will also start to decrease crime in these areas."
Relating to this decrease, public safety is another "multi-dimensional" issue that Bethune will tackle if chosen to be mayor.
"Our public safety solution is not as simple as hiring 100 new officers. That's looking at a problem topically when what we need to do is look beyond the surface," she said.
"The reality is that we don't need 100 new officers year round. Therefore, it doesn't make financial sense to add that many full time employees on the payroll."
Bethune said she trusted the city manager to "thoroughly analyze our police needs in a rational manner."
"We must also ensure that our pay and benefit structure is competitive with other key markets. We cannot put our city at risk by not having a properly staffed police department," she said.
"I look forward to sharing some ideas with our city manager and council about alternative ways to make sure we have more boots on the ground during our key season."
Two options Bethune feels are worth considering are the implementing of hospitality fficers and implementing a traveling officers program.
"Having a stronger security presence will go a long way in helping deter crime," she said. "As will increasing our lighting and surveillance in high traffic and high crime zones."
Currently city council workshops and meetings are held on the same day. Bethune said she would like to see the workshops on one day and the council meetings held on a separate day in the evening to increase accessibility for citizens who may not be able to attend due to work.
She added that working and communicating with locals and being transparent with them was a large part of her intent to run for office and would remain that way going forward.
"Our goal as public servants is to listen, to care, to respond, and to be good stewards of our city's budget. I believe that our growing city needs leadership that is strong, focused and proactive. I promise to always do what is best for our community and our citizens."
Mark McBride is no stranger to City Hall or the mayor's office, having been on city council and in the mayor's seat for two terms.
He said he wants to return to the mayor's post because he is tired of seeing the city he loves taking a drastic downturn in safety, visitor appeal and general quality of life for all those who live, work and visit Myrtle Beach.
"It's really very simple," McBride said. "We have to make this city safe again. Public safety is and has to be the number one priority for any elected official in this city."
He said he tried to tell the mayor and council that two years ago and everyone said crime was not an issue.
"They had their heads buried in the sand and now it's too late," McBride said. "The world has seen crime raise its ugly head this year and we have to do something now to change that."
McBride said he wants to increase the city's police force by at least 100 new officers over the next couple of years.
He proposes to fund such a move by convincing the state legislature to change the rules of the Tourism Development Fee and allow money that's now going to the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce be diverted for hiring new officers.
"We also have to raise the salaries and benefits of the officers we have," he said. "With that extra funding, we would have the ability to make coming to our police department so enticing there would be applicants lined up to join."
McBride said he would also work to diversify the economy in the city.
"We have the potential to attract people from all over the country to work here," he said. "This would be an excellent place for start-up tech companies or the home base for those who work remotely."
As to changes within the government, McBride said he would work to re-prioritize some of the current council's decisions, notably the idea of relocating the Children's Museum and Chapin Library to the Super Block area.
"We can renovate the library if needed and having the museum in such a prominent place doesn't make good business sense," he said. "The Super Block would be ideal for small start-up companies, restaurants and other businesses that would draw more people downtown."
McBride said the city council needs to step up and lead the city and not give all its power and control to the city manager and city staff.
"But when it all comes down to it," he said. "If we don't make public safety our absolute number one priority, nothing else really matters. We need to make this city safe again and a place where everyone feels comfortable to visit and live."
Story provided by our news partners My Horry News. Written by Viraj Naik email@example.com