Lawyer: Horry Co. Council’s discussion of administrator’s contract was illegal

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UPDATE: CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Jay Bender, a media attorney in South Carolina, said from his understanding, the discussion Horry County Council had regarding the administrator’s contract was illegal.

“As I understand what happened at the county council, there was some discussion and a motion made with respect to the administrator’s contract,” Bender told News13.

“But it’s my belief that discussion was illegal in the first instance because the motion to amend the agenda to add that item was defeated.”

After two hours of heated discussion in a special meeting, county council was deadlocked 6-6 and the vote to terminate the contract of county administrator Chris Eldridge failed.

Bender said without the item being on the agenda, there was no lawful way to bring up the topic of reviewing the administrator’s contract.

Follow News13 for updates on this story.

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CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County Council tried to get back to its business Tuesday night, less than hour after a contentious meeting ended and a motion to fire the county administrator narrowly failed.

After two hours of heated discussion in a special meeting, county council was deadlocked 6-6 and the vote to terminate the contract of county administrator Chris Eldridge failed. Eldridge’s employment was not discussed during the regularly scheduled council meeting.

The controversy of a claim of an extortion attempt and a SLED investigation has lingered over county council since before Christmas.

Even though authorities decided not to file charges, council remains evenly split on the future of the county administrator.

“I know you might love Horry County and love to keep on working, but how are we going to do it when it’s dividing us?” said Paul Prince, a council member representing Loris, to Eldridge during Tuesday afternoon’s special meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was for council to discuss how Eldridge handled a claim of an extortion attempt by an associate of council chair Johnny Gardner.

“(Gardner) cannot trust the administrator now because that bond has been broken,” said Al Allen, a council member representing Aynor.

Eldridge defended himself, saying further investigation was warranted based on what he heard in an audio recording of Gardner’s lunch in the claim.

“I follow my duty as administrator, my ethical pledge that I made with (the International City/County Management Association) and everything else, to not cover something up,” said Eldridge.

Council member Dennis DiSabato, who represents most of the city of Myrtle Beach, showed the most vocal support for Eldridge.

“I do not think it would be appropriate to fire the administrator if what he thought he heard on that tape was improper,” he said.

Gardner disagreed and says he’s upset with the timing of when information about the investigation was released.

“Do you feel like you’d work with Mr. Eldridge going forward?” asked Johnny Vaught, a council member representing the Forestbrook area and neighborhoods south of the city of Conway.

“Were you here for the swearing-in?” asked Gardner. “I know you were.” 

“Yes sir, I was,” Vaught replied.

“You saw my children?” Gardner asked.

“Yes, I did,” said Vaught.

“You heard people asking about (me) going to jail?” asked Gardner. “No sir, I can’t work with somebody who did that.”

After the meeting, Gardner says there’s work to do so he can feel more trust in Eldridge.

“As far as a daily briefing or a weekly briefing or an office meeting or a sitdown, we haven’t had any of that since my election, so yes, that’s going to be hard to work around,” Gardner said.

Terminating the contract would have meant Eldridge would be paid for six months. He also would have been entiled to earned benefits.

Allen said a severance package was offered to Eldridge on Tuesday morning, but wasn’t accepted.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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