Longtime Hilton Head Island town manager Steve Riley, who was looking for another job earlier this year, now says he plans to stay on through the Hurricane Matthew recovery, which could take more than two years by some estimates.
But the question is, will he get to stay that long?
Riley’s contract is up at the end of 2017; his annual salary is $175,000. The hurricane recovery could take up to two years or more, according to town staff.
“I just can’t walk away in the middle of the storm,” Riley, who has been with the town for about 25 years, told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Monday.
Mayor David Bennett, who has had a rocky relationship with Riley, told the newspapers Tuesday he was too busy to be interviewed about Riley’s employment status.
“I’m 100 percent focused on our (town’s) priorities and our recovery from the hurricane,” Bennett, who was publicly criticized for staying in Florida during the storm, said via a text message. “I don’t have any further comment on the Town Manager’s employment status.”
But Bennett said in the text what is expected of Riley.
“Town Council fully expects him (Riley) to perform the duties and responsibilities assigned to him under the contract and municipal code including advancing Town Council policies and priorities and overseeing hurricane recovery efforts performed by our town staff,” Bennett said. “Otherwise, to the best of my knowledge, the alternative opportunities he was seeking have yet to come to fruition.”
It would take four members of the seven-member Town Council to fire Riley.
Several council members, including Marc Grant, Bill Harkins and John McCann, have said publicly they support Riley. Contacted Wednesday, council member David Ames, an ally of Bennett, said it was too early to discuss Riley’s contract, though he praised the town manager’s efforts during the hurricane. Council members Tom Lennox and Kim Likins could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Before the Oct. 8 hurricane hit, Riley said he was in the process of talking with several potential future employers, though he would not give details. Riley said conflicts with Bennett spurred his desire to look for another job.
It was publicly known that Riley was a finalist for top municipal management spots in Savannah and Davenport, Iowa, though he didn’t get either job. He pulled out of a finalist position for a city manager’s position in Forney, Texas.
Yet, during a Town Council workshop last week with Bennett present, Riley said he planned to stay on as town manager for the remainder of the storm recovery. Harkins, who on Tuesday lost his position as mayor pro tem to Likins, asked the council at the workshop to extend Riley’s contract to let Riley accomplish his hurricane-recovery goals. No action was taken at the workshop.
“We owe it to our town and town management to come to closure on the management position for this town,” Harkins told the newspapers Wednesday. “We have put our town manager in limbo, and this is not fair to the town, nor is it fair for our current executive director, and shame on us for not acting by now.”
Contacted Wednesday by the newspapers, Riley said he is not concerned about his past problems with the mayor or his contract.
“We are all going to do what is best for the town and proceed with Hurricane Matthew recovery,” he said.