MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Mayor Rhodes is now taking home $56,000 a year. That's a $30,000 increase from 2013, yet he's still a part-time mayor. So without an increase in his official responsibilities, the question becomes, why, and why now?
"If you had to give how many hours per week you work, how many would you say?" asks WMBF News Anchor Heather Biance.
"It depends. Some weeks 50 hours, some weeks it could be 15 hours. It just depends on what is there and the demand," replies John Rhodes.
As John Rhodes enters his ninth year as mayor of Myrtle Beach, he tells us that demand of his time is sky-rocketing. "You think about when people are having meetings or conventions, you may be required to be there at 8 o'clock in the morning or lunch or dinner time. It's whenever they want you, weekend or otherwise, you have to go," he says.
Because we have a council-mayor form of government instead of a strong Mayor, like Charleston and North Charleston, the mayor is more of a ceremonial role. He's the official "face" of the city and the greeter.
"It's not unusual to have three or four appearances in a day," says Myrtle Beach Council member Randal Wallace. "They're never right beside each other. So the mayor is just on the road so much. And it's hard for somebody who is working another job to keep the schedule."
Nearly two years ago, City Council unanimously passed the nearly $30,000 raise, well before Mayor Rhodes won his re-election, and that isn't by chance. A state law safeguards taxpayers from a sitting mayor or council member being able to vote to increase their own salary.
"I'm very happy that they did decide that, but I'm also very respectful of what that means of me and from my time," says Mayor Rhodes.
As we know, Myrtle Beach is a tale of two cities. Our population swells to well over 100,000 during the heat of the summer, and council member Randal Wallace believes that skews the perception of adequate pay.
"It's substantially more than somebody would be making in most cities in South Carolina, but Myrtle Beach is just an odd situation. We're a smaller town 23,000 people, so if you're going to say 'Wow he's making a lot of money,' but the responsibilities of a mayor in Myrtle Beach are that of a bigger city. Especially eight months out of the year," says Wallace.
Here's how Rhodes' salary stacks against others in the state: the Florence's mayor, for example, takes home roughly $18,000 per year. Columbia's mayor is about to see a hefty salary increase starting in July. He's going from $17,500 to $75,000, which is the first pay increase in more than two decades. And then strong mayor, Joe Riley, down in Charleston, takes home $162,000.
A lot of local taxpayers didn't know about the mayor's pay increase and monthly car allowance until I told them. While most approved of Mayor Rhodes' overall performance, they aren't convinced the cost is justifiable.
Local Joe Cornett chimes in, "I don't know that any politician should get that. I think they should all be retired businessman that doesn't have anything to gain in political office."
"They should only increase it by a little bit, not double his salary, that's way too much," agrees Peter Nguyen.
We also met Julie Eckert who thinks differently, "I don't think we know what goes on behind the scenes, and we don't always agree with it, but I think a salary increase provides more opportunity."
Council member Mike Chestnut says opportunity is exactly what an increased salary will bring to our growing tourist city.
"You have to live just like everyone else does," Chestnut says. "So I see it as, it will attract other candidates who might want to get involved now because, 'Hey if I can make a salary and at the same time feed my family' then I can see it opening up doors for other people getting involved in politics."
Heather Biance asks Chestnut, "Would you say that every single penny is worth it for this position and for Mayor Rhodes?
"I definitely think it's worth it," exclaims Chestnut.
Mayor Rhodes explains, "We're going to have critics. There's no question about it, but I feel like what we do, what we accomplish and the job we're doing will silence the critics. The time that I put in is going to set a precedence as to what is expected to whomever becomes the next mayor."
When asked about his vision for the next four years, he has an ambitious to-do list, including clinching the title for the longest boardwalk in the world.
"We have not been able to shake the right tree yet to get any fruit, but I think it's there," says Rhodes.
While some thinks it's tacky to get sponsorships like sporting arenas, Rhodes says if it'll keep them from raising $20 million dollars in taxes, it's worth it.
Although Mayor Rhodes holds the head honcho title, he doesn't ultimately hold all of the power. He's just one vote alongside his seven-person council. He also has a full team of city managers and attorneys who, as we have discovered, have substantial salaries as well.
Tom Leath, the City Manager, takes home nearly $170,000 a year. The city's assistant managers, John Pedersen and Ron Andrews, hover around the $140,000 per year mark.
See a full salary breakdown/car allowance for each of the City of Myrtle Beach staff members here: http://ftpcontent4.worldnow.com/wmbf/pdf/MyrtleBeachCitySalaryList.pdf
Watch Heather unedited interview with Mayor John Rhodes in the video player above. Mobile users, tap here to watch: http://bit.ly/MSVBNv