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Horry County Council makes decision on status of its top employee

Horry County Council votes on Eldridge’s employment

Horry County Council met once again to decide the future of its top employee, Administrator Chris Eldridge. Here is how the latest vote went following the SLED investigation into Chairman Johnny Gardner.
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Horry County Council met once again to decide the future of its top employee, Administrator Chris Eldridge. Here is how the latest vote went following the SLED investigation into Chairman Johnny Gardner.

Horry County is now in the market for a new top administrator.

Horry County Council voted 9-2 in favor of a contract that allowed administrator Chris Eldridge to resign with compensation. Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner abstained from voting, and Council Members Tyler Servant and Bill Howard voted no.

The discussion was held Tuesday night in executive session, behind closed doors. The vote was held in public, but the exact cost of the deal was not disclosed and council members declined to comment.

After the executive session, Servant started the discussion.

“I just wanted to give the people back home the reason I’m voting no on this tonight. I agree that we need to move in a different direction with the administrator, but where I disagree is on the … close to 300,000 …,” Servant said.

But he was then quickly cut off by Gardner and other council members, who said the information was private because it was discussed in executive session. The money will be from public funds, but the total amount was not disclosed.

The Sun News put in a request under the Freedom of Information Act on Tuesday for the contract and its terms. Officials denied the request Wednesday, saying it was confidential.

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Horry County Councilman Tyler Servant speaks during a council meeting Tuesday at the Horry County Courthouse in Conway. Josh Bell jbell@thesunnews.com


Council member Johnny Vaught said Eldridge did a good job as administrator, but the county needed to move on.

Council member Dennis DiSabato said the Council appreciated Eldridge’s many years of service.

Gardner said he abstained voting because he didn’t want to appear as the one driving this.

“This was a council decision,” he said.

Assistant County Administrator Steve Gosnell will be the interim administrator until a new one is hired from a nationwide search.

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Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner speaks with fellow councilman Al Allen before the start of a council meeting Tuesday at the Horry County Courthouse in Conway. Josh Bell jbell@thesunnews.com

The build-up

This week marks the four-month anniversary of when Eldridge initially asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate a dinner between Gardner, his associate, Luke Barefoot, and two members of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.

When the news of the investigation broke right before Christmas, it wasn’t until January that a first special meeting was called to discuss Eldridge’s employment. All but one previous discussion of the administrator’s employment stalled without a vote.

In the beginning of March, the second meeting to discuss Eldridge’s employment was held after SLED released its report into the investigation. This time the council reached a vote, with the administrator keeping his job in a tied vote.

Eldridge’s contract made firing him difficult. It contained an automatic renewal clause that already was in affect, meaning it would take a year before he could be let go without paying him six months of his salary plus benefits. The contract was approved in 2015, with Servant being the only no vote.

Toward the end of March, Gardner said Eldridge was ready to negotiate his resignation through a lawyer, setting the stage for Tuesday’s meeting.

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