John W. Rhoads, the 43-year-old former Prince George's County Police chief who retired two months ago with a tax-free $29,700 disability pension after pleading a back injury, is now seeking to augment his retirement pay with a $30,000 law enforcement job in central Florida.
The elected sheriff of the police force in Orange County, Fla., which surrounds Orlando, said yesterday that Rhoads is one of the top candidates for the position of deputy sheriff there. Sheriff Melvin G. Coleman said Rhoads would be responsible for the department's day-to-day operations.
"If things work out, I might very well make the move," Rhoads said in a telephone interview. "The work is right up my alley. It's a quieter place than Prince George's."
But several members of the Prince George's County Council sharply criticized Rhoads' new plans, noting that they granted him a 70 percent disability pension because they accepted his explanation that his back injury made it impossible for him to function in a demanding job.
"It makes a mockery of the system," said County Council member Floyd E. Wilson Jr.
"It bears out my suspicions that he was looking for a loophole in our retirement system," added Council member Sue V. Mills. "He should not be getting retirement here if he's going to be working."
Rhoads' former job and the one he aspires to are similar in two important respects. The police forces in both areas are composed of from 800 to 850 employees, and both cover jurisdictions with between 500,000 and 700,000 residents.
County officials said, however, that Rhoads is not prohibited under retirement laws from taking a new position, and Rhoads contends that the job in Florida is "a different situation" that "is not in conflict" with his retirement in Prince George's.
"The difference is that I'm not going to be a chief or a patrol officer, I'm going to be an administrator," Rhoads said. "The doctors tell me that one of the causes of my back problem is stress. The stress of running an organization is not at all equal to helping somebody else run it."
Rhoads said that his four-year-old back injury, which forced him to miss most of his last two months of work in Prince George's, "has improved 100 percent."
"The problem is still there," Rhoads said, "but there is no pain in my legs anymore. The pain has improved considerably since early May."
Rhoads and his prospective employer, Coleman, said that Rhoads had agreed to waive his right to retire from the Orange County department on disabiility because of his back injury.
"Look," Coleman said, "I'm not hiring him to go out and fight drunks in bars. I'm hiring him to work at a desk job. I don't think his injury would hinder him in his work here at all."
Coleman said he expects to decide on Rhoads' application within "a week or ten days" and wants his new deputy to start work as early as mid-September.
Rhoads said that he was contacted about the Orange County job after Coleman spoke to several friends of both men who said Rhoads might be available.
"I wasn't looking for a job, but I was going down there anyway with my family for a vacation, so I decided to look at it," Rhoads said. I really liked it. It's a sheriff's department, but it handles the police work. It's like a combination of the Prince George's police and the Prince George's sheriff's department."
"Rhoads spent several days here, familiarizing himself with the department," Coleman said. "He talked with the staff, and went on some patrol rides. I'm very impressed with his ability and his expertise."
The sheriff's department in Orange County is responsible for handling all police calls outside the city of Orlando, which has its own police force, and for supervising the county courts and four county jails, Coleman said.
Prince George's County Council members said yesterday that sort of responsibility seemed uncomfortably close to Rhoads' former job here.
Mills said she would soon introduce legislation in the council to force employes who retire on disability to have semi-annual checkups to certify that they are still incapable of working.
In Rhoads' case, however, the council apparently can take no action. "It looks a little curious on the surface," said Council Chairman William B. Amonette. "But we have no control over it."
Jack McHale, an aide to County Executive Lawrence Hogan said yesterday that Hogan's office would address Rhoads' case only if he took the job.
"A guy can apply for President of the United States, but that doesn't mean he's going to get it," McHale said. "If he takes the job, then maybe we'll have a grievance, but for now it's not really a concern."