It’s increasingly likely that Steve Riley, Hilton Head Island’s longtime manager, is leaving his job.
In addition to being a finalist for a city administrator position in Davenport, Iowa, Riley confirmed Thursday that he’s also a finalist for the city manager job in Savannah. He is one of about 12 semi-finalists for the post, according to officials with a firm conducting the search.
“I am just keeping my options open,” said Riley, who has worked for the town for 25 years. He previously cited a turbulent relationship with Mayor David Bennett as one factor in deciding to look for a new job. He declined to comment further on the relationship Thursday.
Bennett also declined Thursday to comment further on the relationship but did say, “99.9 percent of the people that I have worked with and for, I have gotten along tremendously with.”
The Hilton Head Town Council have already started discussions on how to fill the manager position despite no guarantee that Riley is leaving. This included an executive session discussion held during a special meeting on June 14.
There is a need to be proactive in filling what will likely be a future position, Bennett said.
“It is not like a head hunter called Mr. Riley,” Bennett said. “This is a situation where Riley has decided there is a next step outside of Hilton Head Island. He is actively pursing that.”
Filling a position, such as Riley’s, could take up to a year, Bennett said. Starting discussions now could mean a short vacancy period, he added.
“Do you simply react or be proactive, working in the best interest of the community,” Bennett said. “Our community is substantially different today than it was when Steve took over as town manager. What qualifications do we think are important to advance us as a community?”
Two former Hilton Head mayors said Thursday that Riley has been integral to operations in the town for more than two decades.
Riley was already town manager when Tom Peeples was elected in 1995.
It is not like a head hunter called Mr. Riley. This is a situation where Riley has decided there is a next step outside of Hilton Head Island he is actively pursing that.
David Bennett, Hilton Head Mayor
“I am sad that the current administration don’t seem to understand what a fantastic asset Steve is,” Peeples said. “Once he is gone, the people here are going to realize what they have lost.”
Peeples said Riley’s ability to listen to different views have been critical for town business.
“We had two different fire departments and a volunteer rescue squad,” Peeples said. “Steve was able to bring those folks together, consolidate those districts and did it in a way where the two fire departments felt they were all a part of the same team.”
As a town manager it has been Steve’s job to run the town, Peeples said.
“The town manager is the chief operating officer if you will for the town,” Peeples said. “He is the final word on who stays and who goes and the quality of people hired. The mayor and the council make the rules and he carries them out.”
Drew Laughlin, Hilton Head’s former mayor who lost a re-election bid to Bennett in 2014, said he had a lot of respect for Riley while in office.
“I considered him a completely capable and selfless public servant,” Laughlin said. “A lot of things that happened or that council did often times were ideas Steve had suggested or developed.”
It will be difficult to replace Riley’s years of experience, if Town Council is faced with that issue, Laughlin said.
“You have someone who knows this community inside and out and has committed to it,” Laughlin said. “You have someone who has established relationships inside and outside of the town.”
Savannah officials could narrow its search to three to five finalists by the end of July, said Colin Baenziger, of Colin Baenziger & Associates, the firm conducting the Savannah search. He said about 126 applicants applied for the position. It was originally narrowed to 30 and more recently to about a dozen.
Riley was selected as a finalist out of 34 applicants for the Davenport job. He will be interviewed for the position in Davenport on July 11 and 12.
Riley would not say if he is a finalist in any other job searches. He did say he has applied to several other places as well.
Teresa Moss: 843-706-8152