City officials want to determine whether the four months firefighter Kevin Thompson spent in jail should count toward his retirement. Yesterday, the city’s Retirement Board delayed action on Thompson’s pension request until that question is answered. The delay also will give investigators time to complete their probe of how Thompson spent four months in jail this year and still was paid by the city.
The city also is investigating whether laws or city rules were broken by Thompson and those who helped cover his work shift, as well as whether anyone in the Fire Department knew he has not been licensed to drive since 1992.
At its monthly meeting yesterday in City Hall, the Retirement Board agreed to table Thompson’s pension request and, if necessary, schedule a hearing on the matter.
The city’s lawyer, William Cox, submitted a letter to the board noting that in order to comply with state laws regarding retirement systems and pensions, that it take no action on the approval of Thompson’s pension request until the city has time to “review, investigate and prepare a proper statement of facts and provide adequate notice to the Board and Mr. Thompson.”
Cox also asked the board for a written opinion as to whether a member of the city’s retirement system can accrue credible service toward a pension while incarcerated.
“I have to look at the conduct we believed occurred, apply that to the retirement law and then advise the mayor as to whether or not there are legal grounds to pursue a denial of his pension by the Retirement Board,” Cox said after the meeting.
He said he would not discuss components of the investigation and that he plans to file a report to the mayor in about two weeks.
“The mayor can then take any further action he deems necessary, including providing a more detailed statement to the Retirement Board and Mr. Thompson, which would serve as the basis for requesting a hearing by the Retirement Board,” Cox said.
Attending yesterday’s meeting were Retirement Board members William Klueber, Donald “Jake” Shea, Charles Benevento and attorney James Cleary. Board member Lewis Poore Jr. was absent. He is a retired Haverhill fire deputy chief and former acting chief.
Mayor James Fiorentini recently said Thompson’s application for retirement benefits was processed “in record time” with the assistance of Poore.
Thompson, 52, resigned June 11 after he was told to report to the police station to be interviewed about his absence from the Fire Department for four months this year while he was jailed in New Hampshire. Thompson collected his paycheck while in jail on a driving charge by keeping his incarceration secret from the fire chief and other city officials. Thompson, who used a mix of vacation, personal and special leave time, also known as “swap time,” to continue getting paid during his incarceration, got out of jail on May 27.
Yesterday’s meeting agenda noted that Thompson has been employed by the city’s Fire Department for 26 years and six months and that with a veteran’s buyback of four years, it provides him with a total of 30 years and six months of creditable service. Thompson is eligible for benefits equal to about 58 percent of his salary, city officials have said.
Fiorentini has asked Cox and the police to conduct an internal investigation of how a firefighter could be paid for four months while in jail, evidently without top officials of the Fire Department knowing about it.
“It is completely unacceptable that anyone can be on our payroll and be in jail,” Fiorentini said in a written statement. “I have directed the police and our city solicitor to conduct an internal investigation to determine how it is that no one knew that this man was in jail while he was being paid. The answer that this did not cost us money is not acceptable. It is wrong for the city to pay anyone, and have them accrue a pension, while they are in jail. I want to know how this happened and how we can make certain it never happens again.”
The mayor said he has directed Cox to review the results of the internal investigation, when it is complete, to determine if rules or laws were broken and if disciplinary action should be taken against anyone else. He said Cox also will advise the city on which rules and procedures need to be changed.
“If this is allowed by the current rules, then the rules are unacceptable and need to be changed,” Fiorentini said.
In a phone interview Monday, Retirement Board administrator Kathleen Gallant said Thompson has a right to his retirement and that the board was following the process set by law by taking up his retirement request at yesterday’s meeting.
“The board was also following the intent of the law by allowing for additional time for the city to review the matter before a lifetime pension is awarded,” Cox said.
Thompson has not had a valid driver’s license since 1992, when he lost his New Hampshire license after he was convicted of several driving violations, including aggravated driving while intoxicated. New Hampshire labeled Thompson a “habitual offender” in 1992. He lost his Massachusetts driver’s license in 1987. Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles officials said Thompson was found guilty of drunken driving in 1977 in that state.
Fiorentini said he learned about Thompson’s incarceration in late May from fire Chief Richard Borden. When Thompson got out of jail and tried to return to work, the fire chief was waiting for him, Fiorentini said. The fire chief placed Thompson on administrative leave and told him to meet him at the police station to be interviewed, the mayor said.
Thompson never went to the station, however. Instead, he went to the city’s retirement office in City Hall, where he quit his job and filed for retirement benefits, the mayor said.
Neither Thompson nor his lawyer on his most recent driving under suspension case, Gerard LaFlamme Jr., have returned phone calls seeking comment.