CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County’s administrator didn’t need county council’s approval to give a $61,145.37 retirement deal to the ex-police chief, according to county spokesperson Lisa Bourcier. County policy allows the administrator to transfer up to $100,000 without council approval, she said.
The county administrator Chris Eldridge made a deal with Saundra Rhodes to retire 19 months early, councilman Al Allen confirmed to News13. The county paid $61,145.37 to the South Carolina Retirement System on behalf of Rhodes, which allowed her to retire with full benefits.
The deal had no strings attached, according to Bourcier, and nothing was signed in exchange for the money. She said Eldridge made the deal with Rhodes during a conversation.
News13 questioned Bourcier about oversight on such deals, asking what would stop the county administrator from arbitrarily making a deal with someone. Bourcier replied the oversight is council. Eldridge reports to council under the county’s government structure.
The deal, however, was not voted on by county council. Five Horry County councilmen said they didn’t know about the deal when News13 first called them on Monday to ask about it.
News13 asked whether council truly has oversight if some councilmen didn’t know about the deal. Bourcier said we’d have to ask council members.
Councilman Paul Prince said on Tuesday, “I just don’t see how decisions can be made like this without the full council knowing and even the full council voting on it.” Some council members told News13 they didn’t think council needed to be a part of approving the deal.
County attorneys believe the deal is legal, according to Bourcier. She said a policy for retirement payouts doesn’t exist, but county budget policy says, “Any budget transfer within the General Fund from a Department within one Division to a department within another Division that exceeds $100,000…must be approved by County Council through a resolution before the transfer is complete.” Bourcier said council approved the policy.
County officials, including the county administrator, have refused to further explain why the county paid Rhodes to retire early, calling the deal a “personnel matter.”
Rhodes hasn’t said why she retired. She left Horry County Police as SLED investigates several officers within the department and it faces lawsuits from two alleged rape victims who claim the county police department didn’t investigate their cases thoroughly enough. The department has also reopened investigations tied to a former detective accused of sexual assault.