Politics & Government

Months later, county hires attorney for investigation of former interim administrator contract

After months of back and forth, Beaufort County interim administrator John Weaver has selected an attorney to investigate the controversial $24,000 consulting contract awarded to former interim administrator Josh Gruber after he left the position last year.

The appointment, which was awarded to Chester County attorney Joanie Winters last week, came nearly seven months after tensions on county council came to a tipping point when some Beaufort County councilmen said they were blindsided by the consulting contract.

Weaver said he considered four attorneys for the job, but the other three either declined due to their workload or their relationship with Gruber and former interim administrator Tom Keaveny, who awarded Gruber the consulting contract without letting county council know in July.

“All of them would have been qualified,” Weaver said in a recent interview. “But the council wanted total independence, and it has taken awhile to find that person.”

Weaver said Thursday he hopes Winters can complete the investigation in the next four to six weeks.

Winters’ contract outlines that she will receive $285 per hour of work. The council previously approved a sum not to exceed $10,000 during a heated Nov. 5 hearing.

Keaveny — formerly on Gruber’s staff as county attorney before becoming interim county administrator July 23 — authorized Gruber’s consulting contract, which ran from Aug. 6 to Oct. 8 with 30-day extensions at $12,000 each after Gruber accepted a new job as Hilton Head Island’s assistant town manager.

The contract angered some council members who felt it kept taxpayers in the dark and was struck in secret, the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette reported in September.

Meanwhile, the search for the new administrator continues with six candidates that were narrowed down from 71 applications, Weaver said earlier this week.

The goal, he said, is to offer a candidate the position before the county’s March 14-15 strategic planning retreat.

Caitlin Turner is the retail and business reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She has worked in the news industry for five years in both Ohio and South Carolina and loves the Lowcountry life.