Editor’s Note: Town Council voted to suspend the search for Town Manager. Read the latest story here.
The search for Hilton Head Island‘s next town manager has taken a strange turn and is now plagued by accusations of meddling and impropriety, according to sources close to the situation.
Sources close to the situation tell FITSNews that the consulting firm hired by the Town of Hilton Head did not recommend deputy manager Josh Gruber when they narrowed down the final candidates for the top job of town manager.
Yet, Gruber’s name was announced yesterday as one of the top four candidates considered for the town manager job — and since the announcement, two of those candidates have suddenly dropped out of the running.
Why does this sound so familiar?
The scenario is almost exactly what happened in 2018 when Beaufort County was hiring a new administrator.
Former Island Packet columnist Liz Farrell, who now works at the Beaufort County sheriff’s office, covered this issue extensively from 2018 to 2019.
Through her tenacious reporting back then, we learned:
- In May, 2018, Gruber was hired as the Town of Hilton Head’s assistant manager, making $152,000 annual salary.
- Like Hilton Head, Beaufort County paid $24,000 (Hilton Head’s tab is at least $25,000, sources tell us) for a consulting firm to help with the process of hiring a new administrator.
- It appeared that several county council members disregarded the consultant’s recommendations and moved forward with hiring Gruber, who hadn’t even applied for the job, anyways.
- Despite the fact he didn’t apply and was twice rejected by county council members, Gruber was selected as the top candidate (we’ll get to that in a minute).
In her columns, Farrell uncovered shocking emails — that she describes as a “play-by-play script” to fake out the rest of County Council in order to get Gruber the county admin position — sent by Beaufort County councilman and prominent Hilton Head Island resident Stu Rodman (to learn more about Rodman check out our article “Government Secrecy and Stonewalling in Beaufort County“).
It was literally a three-step plan on how to get Josh Gruber the job, Farrell reported in her columns at the time.
Beaufort County Council had already rejected Gruber for the position when these emails were sent.
Yet, Beaufort County Council hired, then un-hired Gruber at a chaotic July 23, 2018 meeting — even though he was not considered as a final candidate, according to Farrell’s 2019 columns.
The person County Council hired that night in 2018, Alan Ours, immediately declined the offer and Council was left to start the search all over again.
It appears we might be headed down that same road on Hilton Head, where the candidate field suddenly went from four to two just a day after the four finalists had been announced.
But wait there’s more.
Immediately after the 2018 fiasco, Stu Rodman suggested that the county — a.k.a. taxpayers — pay Gruber, now a town of Hilton Head employee, a $100K “stay” bonus while Beaufort County Council completed the search for an administrator, Farrell reported at the time.
Rodman wrote in those emails that it was for “the good of the county.”
Before this suggestion was made, Gruber had already plotted an interesting exit from the county. When he had accepted the job as Hilton Head’s assistant town manager, he gave himself a whopping $24,000 contract for consulting work with the county, the Packet’s reporting revealed.
To put it simply — he was still getting paid by the county while he was working for the Town of Hilton Head.
Two years later, sources close to the situation tell FITSNews they are worried that the same chaos is occurring all over again — officials apparently working behind the scenes to get Gruber a top job that many don’t want him in.
The question is why? Why do the good ole boys want him in this position so badly?
“There’s something about Josh Gruber that is straight-up intoxicating to Rodman and (Hilton Head mayor John) McCann,” a source familiar with the situation said. “It’s like they’ve become crazed by his political pheromones and it’s beyond pathetic. Their pursuit of Gruber has resulted in so much toxicity and chaos. But really these guys have been turning our county and town governments into Tammany Hall for years. And no one stops them. That’s the saddest part.”
Also important to note, while the hiring process has been going on, Gruber’s position has suddenly changed from assistant town manager to deputy town manger. He was called assistant town manager in a news release on Sept. 1, then referred to as deputy town manager on Sept. 3.
Earlier today, Island Packet reporter Kacen Bayless wrote an explosive story detailing a secret meeting between Hilton Head Mayor John McCann, two town council members, Stu Rodman, Josh Gruber and another Hilton Head resident. The group was discussing the U.S. 278 corridor project, Bayless reported.
The Packet reported that the meeting — held in the private Sea Pines Resort community without any public notice — was conducted illegally according to state law.
Gruber disagreed with this notion that the meeting — where five government officials discussed government business — should have been public, Bayless reported.
Sources familiar to the situation tell us that this type of behavior is concerning when considering Gruber as a future town manager — Hilton Head’s top job.
Several sources referred to him as a part of the good ole boy system in Beaufort County.
Gruber has worked in Beaufort County government since 2011, when he was hired as a county attorney. He was promoted to deputy county administrator in 2014, then was named interim county administrator in 2017, before he took the job at Hilton Head in 2018.
As of yesterday, Hilton Head officials listed two candidates in the running for the town manager job — Gruber and Michael Bennett, City Manager of Fruita, Colorado.
“The executive recruitment firm that Town Council is working with, Colin Baenziger & Associates, is contacting an alternate candidate,” the town of Hilton Head in a news release yesterday. “That candidate will be announced once confirmed.”
In an effort to be transparent, the Town of Hilton Head will host a community reception on Sept. 30 and a virtual forum on Oct. 1
“The public at large can participate in the October 1st live-streamed interviews, which will be conducted using Facebook Live,” the town news release said.
According to the timeline, Hilton Head aims to hire a new town manager, replacing veteran Steve Riley, by October 2020.
We will be keeping a close eye on this at FITSNews… Stay Tuned.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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