By DEUCE NIVEN
A private landowner has a claim to an alley adjacent to his downtown Loris business, through action by Mayor Todd Harrelson earlier this year, and no city council member recalls being informed.
It’s a complicated matter involving a Quit Claim Deed granting the transfer of ownership of a 30 foot wide alley separating Todd’s Auto Parts and the former Graham Brothers warehouse, now owned by NMB Wholesale Appliances.
It’s not clear if Andrew Mark Schwarz, who purchased the warehouse from a North Carolina bank in 2015, is aware of the transaction, though it appears to impact access to his Loris business.
Repeated efforts to contact Schwarz this week were not successful. A woman who returned one call said she would pass along the request for contact to a supervisor, who might or might not pass that along to Schwarz.
Railroad Properties, LLC, owned by Todd’s Auto Parts owner Clifton Todd, sought ownership of the alley earlier this year, reached out to City Hall, and was aided by Mayor Harrelson, Todd said Tuesday.
“The city didn’t have any claim to it,” Todd said. “They didn’t want to maintain it, didn’t want to have anything to do with it.”
Todd said Schwarz’ business was using the alley inappropriately, placing disposal bins in it, which became an issue for him and his auto parts business.
“Since nobody actually had claim to it, the city agreed to it,” Todd said.
Mayor Harrelson essentially echoed Todd.
“It wasn’t ever the city’s to start with,” Harrelson said. “The city relinquished any rights that could be there.”
Harrelson said the alley once belonged to county government, but that it had abandoned, the city had never claimed ownership.
“You don’t have to take action on something you don’t own,” Harrelson said.
At least three of the six sitting council members took a different view, two were noncommittal, and one – Terrence Hardee – declined to comment.
“This is unprecedented as far as I know,” Carroll Padgett, one of two attorneys sitting on council said. “Any discussion like this has always been done by council. It’s public property, the public has the right to know about it. It has to be opened up for bids.”
Michael Suggs, also an attorney and council’s longest serving member, sounded a similar alarm.
“I’ve never seen a council do anything like that,” Suggs said. “It should have come before council.”
Bill Rogers, an attorney in Columbia retiring this week as Executive Director of the South Carolina Press Association, agreed.
“I think he overstepped his bounds there to do that without council approval,” Rogers said of Harrelson.
Councilman Lewis Hardee also said Harrelson appears to have overstepped his authority.
“In Loris, the form of government we have, the mayor has no more authority than I do,” Lewis Hardee said. “None whatsoever. We’re supposed to have council in agreement.”
Council members Joan Gause and Jan Vescovi said they did not recall the transfer ever coming before council, and were less sure if the mayor acted inappropriately.
“I’m not sure, I can’t answer,” Gause said.
“We have different responsibilities, sometimes we authorize the mayor to do certain things on his own,” Vescovi said.
Harrelson, however, said he never brought the matter to the attention of council.
See more of this story in today’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.