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Horry County Councilman Al Allen (center) makes a point as he questions Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge 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

Horry County Council will soon map out a plan for hiring an administrator, and council chairman Johnny Gardner wants to move quickly.

“I’m hoping to have this done in 90 days,” he said. “That’s my goal.”

Chris Eldridge’s April 16 resignation puts council members in a place they haven’t been since Eldridge was hired in 2012. They expect to discuss the administrator’s job at their May 7 meeting, then begin advertising the position.

Some council members want the county’s human resources department to screen applicants for specific qualifications and provide the council with a pool of potential candidates. Others would rather hire a recruiting firm to help with the search.

“I don’t like paying the fees the headhunters get, but they are in talks with the type of people we’re looking for,” said councilman Gary Loftus, adding that recruiters often provide deep pool of high-caliber candidates. “They’re not passive. They’re aggressive.” 

Gardner, however, prefers using county staff to help with the search.

“In this day and age, we can let our in-house human resources [staff] handle the majority of that work,” he said.

Once council members approve a job description, Gardner said he would like to see the county advertise the position in a specialized trade journal that caters to government executives. He said the job would also be posted on the websites for the county and the S.C. Association of Counties. 

“That is enough,” he said. “I don’t know how many applications we’ll receive. I hope quite a bit. … I don’t think a headhunter can do any better than that.”

Once the county’s HR staff screens candidates for qualifications, Gardner said council members would then narrow the field. 

If council members can’t agree on a replacement for Eldridge within the chairman's timeframe, the county does have a backup plan. 

Interim administrator Steve Gosnell has a contract with the county through Nov. 1, according to public records. 

That agreement would end — and Gosnell would return to his normal assistant administrator duties — when a permanent administrator is hired. If the county cannot find a new administrator by November, Gosnell’s agreement has a provision that would automatically keep him in that role until March 1.  

Gosnell could also leave the post at any point as long as he provides two weeks’ notice.

Gosnell is not unfamiliar with the administrator’s job. He served in an interim capacity between the tenures of John Weaver and Eldridge (November 2011 - May 2012). 

During his time as interim administrator, Gosnell will be paid $217,599.86 — the same salary Eldridge received.  He will also continue his duties as the assistant administrator overseeing the infrastructure and regulation division.

Gosnell’s contract specifies that his actions as interim administrator will not impact his job as assistant administrator should he return to that role.

When council members hired Eldridge, the vote was unanimous. However, that was a stark change from the council's decision on Weaver in 2010. 

After deadlocking more than once, council members finally compromised and agreed to hire Weaver, who was serving as interim administrator at the time and before that had been the county attorney. 

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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