Tom Leath said he was experiencing a full range of emotions when he announced his retirement Tuesday after serving nearly 29 years as Myrtle Beach city manager.
“There’s some excitement but also some apprehension,” he said Wednesday. “It’s running the full gamut.”
He will serve out the rest of his contract, which ends in December.
Leath, 62, said he spent a few years deciding when he should retire and figured it was time.
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“I’m just getting a little older,” he said. “Both of my parents recently passed away, so now I’ve got the means to retire. It’s time.”
In a letter to employees, Leath said he is proud of what has been accomplished in the city. The city has about 850 employees.
“Any success, for which I may be recognized, is directly attributable to you folks throughout the organization who have worked hard and have never lost focus on why your work is so important,” Leath said. “If I have a talent, it is surrounding myself with great people and keeping the hell out of their way.”
Leath informed City Council of his retirement in a letter given during an executive session Tuesday morning.
Leath began working for the city of Myrtle Beach in January 1985 as the assistant city attorney. He became assistant city manager in February 1986, acting city manager in July 1987 and city manager in November 1987, serving on one-year contracts throughout.
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said it will be tough for anyone to fill Leath’s shoes.
“Tom is an exceptional, exceptional person and has been an exceptional city manager,” Rhodes said. “Replacing Tom Leath is going to be one of the biggest things that City Council has had to do in a long time.”
City spokesman Mark Kruea said City Council, which hires the city manager, has yet to determine how it will go about searching for a replacement for Leath, though Leath said in his letter to employees that he will do what he can to help make a smooth transition. The city has two assistant city managers, John Pedersen and Ron Andrews.
Myrtle Beach operates as a council-city manager form of government, meaning the city manager is the chief executive officer of the city and is responsible for the day-to-day activities, Kruea said.
In 2010, Leath took advantage of S.C. Retirement System’s retire-rehire option when he officially retired on Nov. 28, 2010 and was rehired after about two weeks on Dec. 15, 2010.
The program allows workers who have logged the necessary 28 years to retire then return to the job while collecting the state retirement benefits.
Leath’s salary is $169,744.
Leath said he always knew he would stay in Myrtle Beach when he was initially hired. “When I got the job in Myrtle Beach, it was not to get a few years experience and then move to a bigger city,” he said, recalling how much he loved Myrtle Beach from spending summers on the Grand Strand during his childhood. Leath grew up in Charlotte.
Councilman Randal Wallace said it’s “hard to overestimate” what Leath has done for the city.
“He has had an enormous impact on the city – for the good,” Wallace said. “Most managers last two or three years and Tom has been here for 29.”
Leath said he’s not sure what he will do once he retires.
“In some respect [December is] a long way away,” he said. “In another, it’ll be here tomorrow. I’ve not given a lot of thought to what I want to do – other than retire. I don’t plan to come to the meetings and scream about things. I don’t plan to come to the meetings and give advice, unless they’re going to pay me. And I’m not going to run for any office – ever.”