Chris Eldridge

"I didn't want this. I didn't want it to be public," Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge said while being questioned by Horry County Council on Tuesday. The council split a decision to fire Eldridge, but pay him for six more months in addition to health benefits. A tie vote counts as a defeat so Eldridge is still the administrator. His contract expires in April with an automatic one-year renewal. Al Allen, county commissioner, said Eldridge makes more than $211,000 annually with a $10,000 a year car allowance. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Chris Eldridge is no longer Horry County's administrator.

Horry County Council reached an agreement with Eldridge on Tuesday night that allowed him to resign with a compensation package worth more than $270,000.

For three weeks, Eldridge’s lawyer has been in negotiations with council chairman Johnny Gardner. Gardner initially said both sides could agree on an exit strategy for the administrator within two weeks, but the talks took longer than the chairman anticipated. On Tuesday night, council members voted 9-2 to accept the agreement with Eldridge. Gardner, who did not vote on the separation contract, declined to comment on the terms of the administrator's resignation. However, he said the administrator and his attorney came to Tuesday's meeting and both Gardner and Eldridge signed the separation agreement after it was over, ending the administrator's employment with the county.

"This is good for the county," Gardner said. "This way we can put this behind us and move forward."

Neither Eldridge nor his attorney could be reached after the meeting.

Council members discussed the administrator's job in a closed-door session, then returned to an open session for a vote. Council members Bill Howard and Tyler Servant opposed the proposal, but only Servant offered a reason why. 

"I agree that we need to move in a different direction with the administrator," Servant said during the meeting. "But where I disagree is the close to $300,000…" 

At that point, council members told Servant not to speak about the proposed separation agreement, which had not been signed yet.  

"We don't need to be campaigning up here," councilman Al Allen said.

After the meeting, Servant, who had voted against Eldridge's last employment contract when it was approved four years ago, declined to elaborate about his opposition to the resignation deal other than to say he disagreed with its terms.

The administrator's salary was just over $211,000 and he received a car allowance of about $10,000 per year.

Myhorrynews.com has confirmed the separation agreement contains 15 months of compensation, including a year's worth of health insurance. 

The agreement marks a peaceful end to a tumultuous four months for Horry County Government.

On Dec. 20, Eldridge asked the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to investigate extortion allegations involving Gardner. The administrator requested the investigation on the same day Gardner was sworn in. 

SLED investigated the chairman, but Gardner was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in February. 

Eldridge’s employment was discussed at special meetings twice this year. In January, a move to suspend him with pay failed. In March, council deadlocked 6-6 on a vote to fire him, thus temporarily preserving his job. 

The administrator was hired in 2012. His most recent contract, which was signed in 2015, was scheduled to expire on April 21. However, the document included a provision that the contract would be automatically renewed on its anniversary date for one year unless the council gave him six months’ notice that the agreement would be terminated. The council did not provide that notice.

If the council had opted to fire Eldridge, his contract stipulated that he would still have been paid an equivalent of six months of his salary.

An interim administrator has not been named yet.

County officials said Steve Gosnell, the assistant county administrator over infrastructure and regulation, is the leading candidate to serve as interim administrator during the search for Eldridge's replacement.

Gosnell previously served as interim administrator before Eldridge was hired.  

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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I'm the editor of myhorrynews.com and the Carolina Forest Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Horry County, South Carolina. I cover county government, the justice system and agriculture. Know of a story that needs to be covered? Call me at 843-488-7236.

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