Horry County Council to hold second meeting to discuss Eldridge’s employment, I-73

Horry County Council will hold a special meeting on Monday where it again will discuss County Administrator Chris Eldridge’s employment.

The meeting will be Monday at 6 p.m. in the Horry County Council Chambers in Conway.

Horry County Council held a special meeting March 5 to discuss the administrator’s employment after the release of a S.C. Law Enforcement Division report into an alleged extortion attempt involving Council Chairman Johnny Gardner, his associate Luke Barefoot and representatives of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.

The vote two weeks ago to terminate Eldridge’s employment ended in a tie, with the administrator keeping his job.

Council members Al Allen, Orton Bellamy, Paul Prince, Danny Hardee, Johnny Vaught and Gardner all voted to fire Eldridge.

The I-73 deal with S.C. Department of Transportation also is expected to be discussed. This agenda item, which is a resolution to terminate the deal with SCDOT, is listed before Eldridge’s employment discussion.

The final item is an executive session to discuss a “proposed confidentiality agreement between Horry County and the municipalities.” Myrtle Beach filed a lawsuit this week against the county.

Horry County Council Member Tyler Servant, who voted to keep Eldridge in the last meeting, is out of town this week on an anniversary trip. He will not be back in time for the vote.

Gardner, who called the special meeting, said the “crux” of the forum is going to deal with I-73 and the hospitality fee lawsuit filed by Myrtle Beach.

Servant said Gardner’s decision to announce this meeting on a Friday undermines the will of the people he represents and the previous decision of the council.

“Adding something that was previously dealt with to the agenda of a specially called meeting for the sole purpose of undermining the expressed will of the council is unethical,” Servant said. “He is using the special meeting to take advantage of my absence and silencing the voice of all those I represent.”

Gardner said he was unaware Servant was out of town. He said if he hears from Servant on the issue, he will consider what he has to say. He told The Sun News an email to council was sent on Thursday saying a special meeting would be called.

“This is all news to me,” Gardner said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Council Member Gary Loftus confirmed the email was sent Thursday, but there was no agenda item regarding Eldridge’s employment. The administrator’s employment was added to the agenda Friday morning, Loftus said.

Vaught said he was surprised to see Eldridge’s employment back on an agenda. He thought it would come back up, but more time would have been given to make a more agreeable deal for all parties. He does not think the agenda item should be removed since Servant cannot attend, saying council cannot delay action just because of an absence.

Council Member Dennis DiSabato, who has a newborn baby, said it is hard for him to attend special meetings like this. He doesn’t see why this meeting needs to be rushed.

“The lawsuit has been filed … that isn’t going to change,” he said. “There is nothing on the agenda that needs to be done in a special meeting.”

Council Member Harold Worley said the council needs to meet Monday to discuss the hospitality lawsuit, and he is trying to bring council together for the betterment of the county.

“What I am hoping is cooler heads will prevail, and we can take (Eldridge’s contract) off the agenda,” he said.

In the “term” section of Eldridge’s contract, firing the county administrator requires he be given six months of benefits. Eldridge is currently paid $211,262. If terminated, he will receive six months of pay, payout for leave time and other benefits.

His contract expires on April 21, but it has a year-long extension attached. His agreement would require a six-month notice to not renew the agreement. However, at the last meeting, several council members indicated his contract could be brought back up in April at the expiration date.

At the March 5 meeting, Council Member Allen said Eldridge turned down a “package” to resign. The Sun News filed a Freedom of Information request for the “package,” but spokesperson Kelly Moore said there “are no records in the possession, custody or control of Horry County Government” in regards to our request.