CONWAY — The word “interim” can now be dropped from Saundra Rhodes’ title.
Rhodes, who has served as interim chief for the Horry County Police Department since February, was introduced as the new official head of the department at Tuesday’s Horry County Council meeting. The decision had just been made earlier in the day.
Immediately following the announcement from public safety director Paul Whitten, she received a standing ovation.
“We will be focused on crime. We will be focused on your safety,” Rhodes told the large crowd.
Some of those in attendance were her parents and her 13-year-old son.
“I’m very elated,” said Virginia Rhodes, the new chief’s mother.
Growing up, the elder Rhodes said her daughter kept changing her mind about what she wanted to be. However, there was one common theme that stuck.
“She always wanted to work with people,” Virginia Rhodes said.
Congratulations was the order of the night at meeting’s end, with officers and members of council hugging Rhodes and wishing her the best in her new assignment.
It’s a far cry from the Conway native’s childhood dream, which she said was growing up to be Barbie.
“The sky’s the limit,” Rhodes said about where she and the department go from here.
Now that she’s officially head of the department, Rhodes said she’s in a position to get started with promotions and transitioning to more community-based policing.
Part of the ways Rhodes wants to accomplish that, she said, is changing sectors in an effort to reduce response times. She’s also looking to enhance internet access so residents can file certain reports themselves.
“We still send officers to people who have lost cell phones,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes is scheduled to take the oath of office on Friday at 2 p.m. at the M.L. Brown Public Safety Building, located at 2560 Main St., in Conway.
"Chief Rhodes has done an excellent job laying down the foundation of building relationships between the department and the community, while making several internal changes as interim chief to streamline the department,” stated Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge in a written statement.
County Council Chairman Tom Rice told Rhodes he’s heard nothing but accolades for her since she took over for retiring chief Johnny Morgan.
Before being named interim chief of police, Rhodes served as a captain in the Horry County Police Department for nearly six years. Transitioning from focusing on just one division to an entire department has been the most challenging part of the job, she added.
Still, Rhodes said the time has served her well, and she hopes to have the opportunity to continue moving the department forward.
She has served in law enforcement since 1993, all in the county, according to her resume. Rhodes also has served as an adjunct professor at Horry Georgetown Technical College since August 2009, teaching classes in crisis intervention, police administration, community-oriented policing and criminal investigations.
The application period recently closed for the open fire chief position in Horry County, but Whitten said the review process of the 51 applicants has only just begun. Interviews have not started. Whitten said he wanted to take care of the police chief position first.
Council writes off over $2 million in unpaid EMS bills
In other county business, the council approved a resolution Tuesday night to write off $2.4 million in uncollected EMS bills that date back three years.
The approximately 5,768 EMS accounts requested to be written off originated from services provided on or before June 30, 2009, according to information from Horry County.
“The feasibility and legal authority to collect accounts delinquent for three years is so diminished that removal from the active accounts receivable listing for financial statement reporting purposes is prudent and necessary,” the resolution stated.
Approximately 2,364 of the bills were for out-of-county patients, and represented $1.025 million of the uncollected total
Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman, said via email that county staff routinely run reports from their records management system to research how well employees gather the information required for billing purposes.
“We also continue to work with our employees to improve their information gathering skills. We strive very hard between data collection in the field and follow-up attempts at collection from the Horry County Fire Rescue billing office to ensure we write-off as little as possible, Bourcier said
.”Unfortunately, not everyone pays their bills.”
Despite the county writing off the uncollected bills after three years, Bourcier said staff will continue trying to collect the fees.
The county has written off uncollected EMS bills ever since the 2004 fiscal year. In that year, transport billings totaled $5.6 million and the write-off amount was $1.2 million.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.