To save money, police, fire chiefs retire, but remain on duty
The retirements of the town's police chief and two top fire officials were made official on Monday morning and the three chiefs have entered into month-to-month verbal agreements until they sign new contracts that would allow them to keep their positions.
"There is nothing that prohibits the town from re-hiring or re-employing a person who has worked for the town and is now collecting a pension under the pension plan," said Jacob Stanevich, an attorney for the town.
By retiring, effective retroactively June 1, Police Chief Al Fiore, Fire Chief Christopher Ackley and Deputy Fire Chief Jonathan Gottfried will collect their pensions while also receiving a salary that is expected to include less pay and fewer benefits than what they currently receive. They will continue working even though a contract is not in place yet.
If the chiefs did not retire by the end of this fiscal year, then their health insurance costs could have ballooned by several thousand dollars annually. First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said that the reason for the pseudo-retirements is to reduce spending by the town, since the new contracts will cost the town less money.
"This is not an unusual arrangement," said Joseloff, noting that police officers have retired in the past and then been re-hired.
Ackley and Fiore, who were both hired in July 10, 1978, will both have pensions totaling a little more than $126,000. Ackley accumulated 194 sick days and Fiore retired with 318 days, which were used in determining the pension payouts. Gottfried will be receiving $116,680 and had 303 sick days accumulated by the time of his retirement.
The retirement requests were approved by the police and fire pension boards. The only person to vote in dissent was Ron Wojnoski, the fire department union representative, who opposed the retirements of the fire chiefs.
Joseloff said the purpose of the meeting was to act on the retirements and not on the future re-hiring of the chiefs and new contracts, which rankled several people in the audience.
"[People in Westport] feel they are being wormed around a contract, which is typical in Westport. We have a lot of lawyers to figure out how a contract doesn't have to be a contract," said resident Mary Ann Neilson. "Either these employees are retired and they wish to say goodbye or they deal with the contract they are living under."
Joseloff said he has had many calls from people praising the work of the chiefs, but conceded that pensions need to be looked at in the future.
"Our pension contracts no doubt are rich, and we're looking to change them but we can't do that unilaterally," Joseloff said. "We're trying to do our best and we understand these are tough economic times, but we have to abide by the law."