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Horry County public safety leader suddenly leaves his position

Chris Eldridge Horry County Administer job decided

Horry County Council held a special meeting on Tuesday to decide Administrator Chris Eldridge’s employment. The meeting came shortly after the SLED report into extortion claims against Johnny Gardner were released.
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Horry County Council held a special meeting on Tuesday to decide Administrator Chris Eldridge’s employment. The meeting came shortly after the SLED report into extortion claims against Johnny Gardner were released.

Horry County Assistant Administrator Joe Huffman abruptly resigned Monday after a state auditor in Mississippi recently claimed Huffman and one other improperly managed funds at his previous job.

Huffman has led the public safety division in Horry County since 2017 and previously worked as the city manager of Pascagoula, Mississippi.

His job included overseeing the Horry County Police Department, Fire and Rescue, Sheriff, 911 operations, solicitor and coroner. He reported directly to County Council and facilitated the public safety committee meetings.

The state auditor of Mississippi sent out a news release last week saying Huffman and former city comptroller Robert Parker owed $54,000 to the state due to bond mismanagement.

Huffman owns over $6,000 to the State of Mississippi, the auditor said, while Parker owes the rest, which covers investigative costs and accrued interest.

According to our sister paper The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., the auditor’s investigation found Huffman and Parker intentionally moved the funds.

An investigation began after the state received a complaint about a possible violation related to $27 million in bond agreements the city had entered into in December 2014 and June 2017, The Sun Herald reported.

The bonds, White said, should have been deposited into a bank account separate from the city’s general fund account to “ensure adherence to bond terms,” which mandated the bond revenue be spent on city infrastructure and other specified projects in the Flagship city.

Their actions resulted in what appeared to be $14 million in missing funds, prompting layoffs and other action in the city, according to White and The Sun Herald.

While no money was stolen, the auditor said the taxpayers lost out on the interest from the bonds.

These laws about bond money exist for an important reason. They exist to make sure policymakers don’t tell the public they are taking on a bond debt for one purpose but then actually spend the money on something else,” the news release said. “They exist to avoid confusion about how much a city or county actually has to spend on general expenditures, like salaries and administration. The law about spending bond money was not followed in this case, creating a lot of turmoil in Pascagoula.”

If he fails to repay the money, the news release said the matter will be handed over to the attorney general.

District Attorney Angel Myers McIlrath told The Sun Herald that the matter went in front of a grand jury and no criminal wrongdoing was determined.

Council Member Danny Hardee, who chairs the county’s public safety committee, said he does not know if Huffman’s departure is related to the Mississippi auditor’s announcement.

Hardee said he was told that Huffman told Interim County Administrator Steve Gosnell he was going to resign but did not elaborate.

Horry County is already in the midst of conducting a nationwide search for an administrator after Chris Eldridge was terminated in April.

Huffman’s departure comes shortly after Emergency Management Director Randy Webster’s announcement that he will retire at the end of July. Although that agency also is in the middle of the selection process for a new administrator, Webster will act as interim administrator until he leaves.

— Reporter Margaret Baker from The Sun-Herald in Biloxi, Miss., contributed to this report.

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