The $60,000 payout to the former county police chief’s retirement fund should have been put to a vote by the Horry County Council, says one official critical of the decision.
“People have been calling me several times today and wanting to know, ‘where do you get off spending tax dollars like that?’” Councilman Paul Prince who represents the 9th district, said Tuesday, a day after The Sun News reported the payout. “And I’m not guilty of it.”
The decision to pay the money into former Chief Saundra Rhodes’ retirement account was made on the administrative level, and was not put before the council for a vote.
The payout allowed her to retire a year and seven months early.
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Rhodes announced her retirement in April, saying she wished to explore other employment opportunities, and county officials have declined to discuss the details. Rhodes has not responded to requests for comment.
The retirement coincided with an ongoing investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) of individuals within the department, and a lawsuit alleging that a detective sexually assaulted a rape victim. Rhodes’ last day as chief was Friday.
The retirement payout was disclosed Monday in documents obtained by The Sun News through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“We can’t be just giving money away; that should not have happened without a full council vote, and I didn’t know anything about it until it hit the paper,” Prince said.
Prince said his main concern is that the payout might set a precedent for county workers.
What happens when (other employees) work for the same amount of time and want to retire? How many will ask to get a payout, too?
Paul Prince, councilman, Horry County
“What happens when (other employees) work for the same amount of time and want to retire? How many will ask to get a payout, too?” he asked.
Other council members were okay with County Administrator Chris Eldridge’s decision to authorize the payout. Eldridge could not be reached for comment.
County Councilman Johnny Vaught said elected officials do not make hiring and firing decisions, and that the only employees who work for the council are the county administrator and clerk.
“Chris is entitled to make those decisions. He makes all personnel decisions and we don’t get involved in them because we could influence it the wrong way, so we stay out of it,” Vaught said.
“Chris has our confidence, I think he’s a very good administrator and when he needs our help, he comes to us. Otherwise, he does his job, which is what we hired him to do,” Vaught said.
Councilman Bill Howard also stood by Eldridge’s decision.
“I just know that she retired and I’m just so proud of her,” Howard said. “I don’t know any details, and it really isn’t something I need to know — that’s why we have Chris, he’s doing a great job.”