Many of those who have worked with Myrtle Beach city manager Tom Leath over his nearly 29 years with the city agree that it will be tough to fill his shoes once he retires in December.
Leath informed City Council of his retirement in a letter given during an executive session Tuesday morning.
“Tom Leath has certainly done a tremendous job for Myrtle Beach,” North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said. “He is an excellent city manager.”
Hatley said she has worked with Leath over the years on a number of projects ranging from beach renourishment to stormwater drainage.
“Tom has always been helpful in bringing solutions to [issues],” she said. “He’s always been so knowledgeable about his work.”
In his nearly 29 years with Myrtle Beach, Leath, 62, has taken part in shaping Myrtle Beach, overseeing large projects including the development of Broadway at the Beach, Grissom Parkway, the Pelicans baseball stadium and the closure and redevelopment of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The city has about 27,000 year-round residents and millions of visitors during the summer.
Leath started working for the city in January 1985 as the assistant city attorney then became city manager in November 1987.
Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, said he has worked with Leath in a number of ways over the years – as a lawyer, on city committees, with charitable organizations, as Horry County chairman and now as a congressman.
“He has always been prepared, professional and intelligent,” Rice said.
Rice said when he was the president of Myrtle Beach Haven shelter, the organization was working to build a new facility.
“We ran into all kinds of issues,” he said. “Tom was there to help us resolve the issues with the city and with the neighbors.”
One of the first major events Leath had to deal with was Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and the rebuilding of the city in its aftermath.
“Tom worked closely with everyone with that,” said Bruce Boulineau, director of construction services for Myrtle Beach. “We worked seven days a week, 14 to 15 hours a day from the construction side of it. It was a trying time … and his hands were in everything. Any decision that was made that had ramifications for the city, he was involved with it.”
Boulineau said he’s always looked up to Leath and depended on him as a mentor.
“We’re not only losing a great manager, but he really believes in Myrtle Beach and loves Myrtle Beach,” Boulineau said.
Myrtle Beach Fire Chief Alvin Payne said Leath always supports his department heads and lets them do their jobs. During his tenure, Leath also was key to the modernization of the city’s fire stations, Payne said.
“He’s been instrumental in providing the resources for four new stations and renovations of two stations,” Payne said. “He’s done a great job of putting us in a great position for the future.”
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.
Andrews has said he was not interested in succeeding Leath.
“Tom has done a super job here. It will be difficult to fill those shoes,” Andrews said. “I’ll do anything I can to help City Council and the city short term, but in terms of being a full-time city manager at my age that’s not something I want to do.”
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.
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.
Staff writer Alan Blondin contributed to this report.