Politics & Government

Beaufort Co. denies formal request for full report detailing controversial contract

A summary of the report commissioned by Beaufort County Council to look into the actions of former interim administrator Josh Gruber and county attorney Tom Keaveny was leaked Friday to The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette.
A summary of the report commissioned by Beaufort County Council to look into the actions of former interim administrator Josh Gruber and county attorney Tom Keaveny was leaked Friday to The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. Staff photo illustration

Beaufort County government has officially refused to release the full report detailing the county’s actions in awarding a controversial contract to its former interim administrator, Josh Gruber.

The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the county on June 7 for the full report. On Wednesday, the county denied the request, citing attorney-client privilege.

The newspapers received a summary of the report last week from two anonymous sources. The report, written by Chester County attorney Joanie Winters and paid for by taxpayers, informed the county that it likely broke state law when it hired Gruber to serve as a consultant for $12,000 a month.

The attorney wrote that the county failed to follow a state law that requires a “cooling off” period after a public employee leaves his or her position. A former public employee “may not for a period of one year after terminating his employment, accept employment if the employment involves a matter in which the former public employee directly and substantially participated during his employment,” Winters wrote.

Winters was hired in February by county council to assess the legality of the secret, controversial contract that allowed Gruber to continuing working for the county after becoming Hilton Head Island’s assistant town manager in August.

In her report, Winters also pointed out that Gruber failed to immediately obtain a business license to operate as a vendor and consultant with the county, and that he asked for payment from a county staffer while serving as her boss.

The contract was written by Gruber and county attorney Tom Keaveny without the council’s knowledge. It went into effect July 24 and ran through Oct. 8 while Keaveny served as interim administrator. When the contract was revealed to county council, Keaveny stepped down as interim administrator.

Keaveny denied an informal request by the newspapers June 7 and also cited the attorney-client privilege exemption in the state’s open records law.

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