Horry County Council chose Steve Gosnell to be the county’s next administrator this week, but both sides must still work out a contract.
If the agreement is similar to Gosnell’s contract as interim administrator, he would be paid the same salary as his predecessor (nearly $218,000) and would receive a car allowance. In his previous job as assistant county administrator over infrastructure and regulation, Gosnell made about $170,000.
“There are some things Mr. Gosnell would like to have and there are some things the county would like to have,” council chairman Johnny Gardner said, though he didn’t outline any specifics. “What we’re not going to do is we’re not going to have an evergreen clause in this contract.”
That type of clause — which provides an automatic renewal for a set period of time if a new contract isn’t negotiated — proved frustrating for Gardner with the last administrator, Chris Eldridge. Eldridge’s agreement stipulated that council had to give him six months’ notice if his contract wasn’t going to be extended. Not providing that notice gave Eldridge an automatic one-year extension. The council ultimately negotiated a separation agreement with Eldridge that cost more than $300,000.
Gosnell’s contract will be negotiated by a six-member committee consisting of Gardner and council members Dennis DiSabato, Danny Hardee, Johnny Vaught, Al Allen and Paul Prince. Gardner hopes to have an agreement ready for a vote at the council’s next meeting on Aug. 13.
“I see some baseball players put million-dollar contracts together on a cocktail napkin in the afternoon and I see some people stretch it out for a year,” the chairman said. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t have it put together by our next meeting.”
How the vote went down
After a closed-door discussion Tuesday night, the council voted 11-1 to offer Gosnell the job. Gardner said he cast his ballot for another finalist, Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime. That surprised some council members, who said Gardner had urged them to hire former Myrtle Beach City Councilman Wayne Gray, including during the executive session before the final vote.
“Now make no mistake about it, Wayne Gray is absolutely qualified for this job,” Gardner said when asked about Gray. “He knows a great deal about county government in general and he knows a tremendous amount about Horry County Government specifically.”
For the 11 who voted for Gosnell, his 26 years of experience as a county employee and his support from county staff played a key role in their support.
“That factored into my decision-making process for sure,” councilman DiSabato said. “I want to make sure that employee morale is heading in the right direction.”
Gosnell also emphasized his experience with the county when pursuing the administrator’s job.
“I don’t know that I had a pitch,” he said Tuesday while speaking with reporters. “Other than I believe I was the most qualified for the job.”
Gosnell’s selection wasn’t particularly surprising. When council members learned of his interest in the job, some of them discussed scrapping the search and just removing the interim tag.
However, Gardner and councilman Al Allen pushed back, saying council members should follow the procedures they publicly committed to. The council then moved forward with the process.
Although 45 people applied for the job, 20 of them did not meet the minimum requirements for the position. Council reviewed the applications of the remaining 25, which represented 11 states. Twenty-three were men and two were women.
Council members then submitted lists of their top candidates. Based on those rankings, county officials chose five finalists: Gosnell, former York County Manager Bill Shanahan, Caime, Gray and state Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach. Clemmons withdrew his name from consideration last week.
After Tuesday’s decision, Gardner acknowledged the fact that he was the only person not to vote for Gosnell even though as chairman he will have to work with him more closely than other council members will.
“That could be an issue,” he said. “I don’t think it will be. I think Mr. Gosnell respects me. I certainly respect him. … I stood for my convictions about the process. I wanted this thing to be fair and move forward.”
Gardner also said Tuesday’s vote didn’t involve the kind of gridlock that has at times plagued the council in recent months. He laughed when a reporter noted the council unified against him in the 11-1 decision.
“We’ve unified this council to work together,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll be seeing any more split councils on especially things that are not what the public perceives as important.”
Another new hire
Gosnell is not the only person in his house with a new job at Horry County Government.
Starting Monday, the new county administrator’s wife, Vivian, will work as a revenue collector in the Horry County Treasurer’s Office. The position marks a change of pace for the woman who spent more than two decades in the county assessor’s office, but she said she’s ready for a new role, which will be in the business license and hospitality fee division.
“Angie’s come in and made a lot of positive changes,” Vivian Gosnell said, referring to Treasurer Angie Jones. “I had applied a couple of different times a few years ago and was never able to make the transition across. And when this position became available, I took it.”
Jones said there’s another benefit, too. By working for an elected official, the treasurer said Vivian Gosnell should erase any concerns about her employment with the county now that her husband has been hired to manage it.
The county’s nepotism policy states that one relative cannot have the authority to “supervise, appoint, remove, discipline or evaluate the performance of the other.” Relatives also can’t audit each other’s work and they can’t place themselves a position where there’s a conflict of interest.
Jones maintains that even if Vivian Gosnell had continued to work in the assessor’s office — the assessor is a county employee under the administrator — that wouldn’t have violated county policy because her direct supervisor would have been the assessor, not her husband. By taking a job in an elected official’s office, Jones said that removes even the appearance of a conflict.
“It was the ethical thing to do,” she said. “So there was no question.”
If the council had not hired Steve Gosnell as administrator, Jones said that would not have impacted Vivian Gosnell’s employment with her office. She said her staff unanimously agreed she should get the job and the decision was made weeks ago.
“It didn’t matter if Steve got it,” Jones said. “She was coming to work for me.”
Both Gosnells have long histories with the county. An engineer, Steve Gosnell has spent 26 years in the infrastructure and regulation division, while Vivian Gosnell has put in 24 years, almost all of them in the assessor’s office.
For the last three years, Vivian Gosnell has run an auditing program in the assessor’s office that checks to see if those claiming the lower tax rate for an owner-occupied home should be receiving that discount.
The program has helped the county collect almost $7 million, officials said. In her new position, Vivian Gosnell will also be doing some auditing work.
“She is an outstanding employee,” Jones said. “Always has been. [Nearly] 25 years of service. It was a no-brainer for me because I need her to help me deal with some of my programs. … I’m super excited to have her be a part of my team.”