CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County Council decided Wednesday to not hold its first round of interviews for a permanent county administrator in public.
Council chair Johnny Gardner wanted the five candidates to be interviewed publicly, but most council members disagreed. Gardner posted on Facebook last week, accusing several members of “effectively attempting a coup” to make interim administrator Steve Gosnell as permanent administrator before conducting the interviews.
When the public meeting started at 1 p.m., council member Johnny Vaught, who represents the Forestbrook area, moved to go into executive session for the interviews. After about five minutes of contentious discussion, council voted 10-2 in favor of the executive session. Then, they started interviewing the candidates privately in a conference room.
Gardner confronted Vaught before council voted.
“What question for these potential county administrators do you have that you have to ask in private that you can’t ask in public?” Gardner asked Vaught during the meeting.
“Mr. Chairman, there are many such questions like that, that could be asked inadvertently that could open this council up for lawsuits,” Vaught said.
“That would be on the individual councilman and I have confidence in all 11 of you,” Gardner replied.
Gardner and council member Al Allen, who represents Aynor, were the “no” votes. They say Horry County citizens should hear what each candidate has to offer.
Allen criticized his colleagues before executive session.
“Some on this council don’t want the public to know what’s happening,” he said while council walked to the conference room.
Council member Dennis DiSabato, who represents Myrtle Beach and Carolina Forest, says the next county administrator’s terms of employment should be public. He also says open interviews aren’t common, according to legal advice from the South Carolina Association of Counties.
DiSabato also says he wanted the candidates to be as open with council as possible.
“I wanted to get honest, forthright answers to questions that were going to be difficult and I don’t know if you would have gotten that if you had those candidates answering those questions in public,” he said.
There were about a dozen people in the council chambers to learn about the five candidates, many of whom were frustrated with the move to private interviews.
“This is always a drama,” said Peggie Bushey. “I’ve been in church comparing Horry County to Sodom and Gomorrah. This is just getting ridiculous.”
Sharon Pollard of Longs says she wanted to hear the candidates’ plans for improving public safety and infrastructure.
“The money is here,” Pollard said. “Where is it going? We are not getting the answers to that.”
DiSabato also says discussion and a vote on a new administrator could happen as soon as the next council meeting on July 9, but he added that what happens next is ultimately up to Gardner.