By Kevin Kelley
When the city’s former part-time fire inspector resigned in January, it seemed like an opportunity to test the city’s double-dipping law.
In 2011, City Council passed ordinances designed to discourage the
hiring of individuals who have retired from a government job and are
receiving a public pension. Under the legislation, if a retired government employee is hired by the city, his or her pay is reduced by the dollar amount of that pension. Social Security and military pension payments are exempted from the restriction. The reduction in pay can be waived when requested by the mayor and approved by council.
Aware of the law, assistant fire Chief James Hughes brought up the upcoming need to hire a part-time fire inspector at council’s annual budget hearing in December. The outgoing fire inspector had been a retired firefighter but was exempted under the double-dipping law’s grandfather clause. Hughes said retired firefighters are frequently hired as and make good fire inspectors.
At the budget hearing, several council members expressed a willingness to grant a waiver for a retired firefighter hired as a part-time fire inspector.
The city posted the position and interviewed 10 candidates, Mayor Dennis Clough said. The individual who emerged as the top candidate, Clough said, was receiving a pension.
With council apparently willing to grant an exemption to the double-dipping law, there’s no problem, right?
Clough declined to request a waiver from council. He believes the city charter gives most hiring authority to the mayor, not City Council.
Clough also questioned why, if double dipping is so onerous to council, they allowed for any exceptions to be made.
The mayor said he believed three council members – a minority in the seven-member body – might vote against the hiring of a retired firefighter. Clough said he had proposed specific exceptions be made in the double-dipping legislation for the fire inspector position and van drivers at the community Services Department, but council disagreed.
Clough said the dispute with council on the matter is more about trust than who has the authority to hire.
“(Doesn’t council) trust the administration to use good judgment as to what exceptions should be made (to the double-dipping law)?” Clough asked rhetorically.
Ward 1 Councilman Ed Hack, who championed the double-dipping ordinance, said he disagreed with Clough’s decision not to request a waiver.
“I don’t know that it’s a lack of trust as much as it is a power struggle of some sort as to who sets significant policy in Westlake,” Hack told West Life.
Hack said he believes council would grant a waiver if a good case for hiring a retired firefighter can be made. But he believes other candidates can be found, such as working firefighters who could conduct inspections on their days off.
Clough said six current Westlake firefighters are trained to conduct fire inspections and have been doing so.
A resolution to the impasse may be on the horizon. Clough recently told West Life that the city intends to soon repost the vacant part-time fire inspector position with the hope who a qualified candidate, one who can actually be hired, is found.