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Controversial Hilton Head Official Named Interim Town Manager After Chaotic Search Suspended

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After a chaotic search for Hilton Head Island‘s next town manager was suddenly suspended, Town Council will name a controversial official as the interim town manager.

Town Council officials announced last night that deputy town manager Josh Gruber would serve as Hilton Head’s top official until a new town manager is hired.

Last night, Town Council officials “authorized Mayor John McCann to negotiate a contract with Gruber.”

“After much discussion, we decided it was best to hold off on the search a little while longer and give ourselves more time to determine how we want to move forward,” McCann said.

But is there more to it?

Last month, sources close to the situation told FITSNews that the consulting firm hired by the Town of Hilton Head did not recommend Gruber when they narrowed down the final candidates for the top job of town manager.

Yet, Gruber’s name was announced as one of the top four candidates considered for the town manager job — and since the announcement, two of those candidates suddenly dropped out of the running. An alternate candidate dropped out as well, leaving Hilton Head officials no choice but to suddenly suspend their search.

At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, officials announced that the consulting firm “withdrew from being further involved” in the search for town manager.

Repeat of 2018?

This scenario is a lot like what happened in 2018 when Beaufort County was hiring an administrator. It took Beaufort County three different searches before hiring an administrator in 2019.

According to local news reporting:

  • In May, 2018, Gruber was hired as the Town of Hilton Head’s assistant manager, making $152,000 annual salary.
  • Prior to that, Gruber had been considered the heir apparent to the Beaufort County Administrator job. After longtime administrator Gary Kubic retired in fall 2017, Gruber was named interim county administrator. Though he applied for the position and was named a finalist, his advocates on Council could not muster enough votes for him. Council scrapped the process and went back to the drawing board.
  • 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 rejected by county council members, Gruber was selected as the top candidate (we’ll get to that in a minute).

A local news reporter uncovered shocking emails described 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“).

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“It was literally a three-step plan on how to get Josh Gruber the job,” the reporter wrote at the time.

Using the element of surprise and parliamentary maneuvering, 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.

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.

$24K Contract

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.

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.”

Change in Leadership

The decision to temporarily tap Gruber comes amid a major change in leadership in Beaufort County — or what many see as the Good Ole Boys seizing back their power.

Beaufort County Council voted to accept administrator Ashley Jacobs‘s letter of resignation on Monday and failed to give the public any reason as to why she was apparently forced to leave.


After an effort led by Paul Sommerville and Stu Rodman (who are seen as the Good Ole Boys), Beaufort County Council decided to terminate Jacobs’ employment with the county.

Jacobs said in a statement Monday evening that her resignation comes “as the result of an agreement that’s been reached with Beaufort County Council.”

Sources close to the situation told FITSNews that Jacobs was-liked among staff and widely respected for modernizing the county, ferreting out waste and protecting county assets.

Sources close to the situation say that rumors persisted for months that Rodman and Sommerville we’re back to their old tricks and trying to get rid of Jacobs so Gruber could come back.

According to a a release from the town, Town Council officials “will discuss a new search when it gathers for its annual retreat in January.”

Hilton Head Town Manager Steve Riley announced his retirement in June. He has served at the Town of Hilton Head 29 years and been the Town Manager for 29.

“My 29 years of service to the Town have provided me great personal and professional satisfaction, but the time has come to move to a different stage in my life,” Riley stated in his letter.

We will be keeping a close eye on this…

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mandy Matney

Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning 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. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].

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