A behind-the-scenes effort to end the search for Horry County’s next administrator and consider interim administrator Steve Gosnell for that post ran into opposition last week from some council members who want to continue the search process.
During a public meeting May 7, county officials outlined how they would advertise the administrator's position and fill it. But after that meeting, council members began privately discussing whether they should halt the search and simply remove the interim tag from Gosnell’s title. Those conversations upset councilman Al Allen and chairman Johnny Gardner, both of whom want to continue the search as planned.
“That would fly in the face of what we discussed out on the dais in front of God and country and everybody else,” Gardner said. “In keeping with trying to get the right person and trying to do things out in the open, that would not be, I don’t think, what the county would appreciate. … The county wants us to do a search because that’s what we said we were going to do.”
Gosnell, who could not immediately be reached for comment, has been with the county for 26 years and was serving as the assistant administrator over infrastructure and regulation before he was tapped for the interim post following the April 16 resignation of Chris Eldridge.
Since Eldridge’s departure, council members have quietly discussed potential candidates. Some even spoke with state Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, about the job. Clemmons was recently a finalist for the Myrtle Beach city attorney’s post, but he did not get that position.
Those who support keeping Gosnell as administrator insist he’s a capable leader who would not need to learn the intricacies of county government.
“He’s a totally professional person,” said councilman Johnny Vaught. “He’s an engineer. He looks at things logically. His department is well run. It’s well managed. His people are very loyal to him. Nobody that I have talked to on all of staff has anything negative to say about Steve. It’s a totally positive thing.”
Vaught said he didn’t know about Gosnell’s interest in the position until he talked with councilman Harold Worley after the May 7 meeting. Vaught said Worley told him Gosnell was willing to take the job.
Worley could not be reached for comment.
Vaught said he then began contacting council members to gauge their support for Gosnell. He said most liked the idea, but council members Allen and Tyler Servant wanted to continue with the search process, and Gardner wasn’t committed.
“It was totally open and above board,” Vaught said. “There was no backroom dealings.”
Servant said he has no problem with Gosnell serving as administrator, but he wants the process to be transparent and fair.
“From the beginning, I’ve wanted an open search process that would allow anyone that wanted to apply for the job the opportunity for them to do so,” he said.
Allen said he won't support the move to hire Gosnell because he wants to follow the process outlined at last week's meeting.
“We require anybody who applies for a job with Horry County to go through the application process to be investigated — to be interviewed, to be tested — to make sure that we’ve got the most qualified person for the job and to also be fair to every applicant,” he said, adding that the process applies to transfers within departments.
“I want to be transparent. I want to do the right thing. The way this council has acted, I think, has been extremely devious … It shows a lack of respect for not only the new chairman, but the employees and the citizens of this county that they are not willing to hold themselves to the same standards that they expect our employees and everybody else to be held to.”
Allen said he first heard about the effort to install Gosnell last week and he asked the interim administrator on Friday if he was interested in the job. He said Gosnell told him he hadn’t made up his mind.
Before Tuesday’s infrastructure and regulation committee meeting, Allen, the committee chairman, said he was asked if the committee would consider a motion to recommend that the full council look at Gosnell for the administrator’s job. The topic was not discussed.
“We can’t do that,” Allen said. “That is outside the purview of any subcommittee. The entire council has to make that decision in a public forum. I think it’s treading on dangerous ground.”
The administrator’s job was posted on the county’s website Sunday.
Before the position was advertised, councilman Gary Loftus said he asked Patrick Owens, the head of the county’s human resources department, to hold off on listing the position until Owens had talked with the council chairman.
Loftus said he’s not sure if Gosnell wants the job, but if most council members plan on putting him there, he doesn’t see any sense in going through the motions of a formal search.
“That’s not fair to the applicants at all,” he said. “That’s a waste of resources.”
Although council members have different views about the hiring process, no one has suggested discussing the subject at Tuesday's meeting.
“I hope not," Gardner said. "I don’t know why it would [come up].”
The county will be accepting applications for the administrator's position through 5 p.m. June 5.