- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The D.C. City Council should do everything in its power to stop, and reverse, an outrageous sweetheart deal that the D.C. Fire Department gave to a former deputy fire chief. As it stands now, D.C. taxpayers will fork over about $600,000 in extra benefits to former deputy chief (and one-time interim chief) Kenneth B. Ellerbe for work he isn’t doing. Talk about a potential 10-alarm political fire.

Mr. Ellerbe has been the fire chief in Sarasota County, Fla., since late July. Yet he remains, on paper, a member of the D.C. department “on leave without pay” even as he lives and works in the Sunshine State. By allowing him to keep his official employment status here, the D.C. Fire Department allows him to qualify for an extremely generous pension as soon as he turns 50 in April rather than needing to wait until age 55 to start receiving benefits. According to an exclusive in this paper on Monday, the pension payments, at 80 percent of his most recent salary of $149,892, will amount to nearly $600,000 during the intervening five years.

Officials say that Brender L. Gregory, who heads the city’s Department of Human Resources, signed off on the arrangement. Consider us unimpressed. Even if the fire department, the city and Mr. Ellerbe found some way to make the arrangement technically legal - still an open question because human resources officials have denied The Washington Times’ document requests - being “legal” would not make it right. This is especially the case given fire department complaints that budget cuts have forced it to cut back on services.

Mr. Ellerbe is double-dipping at the expense of D.C. taxpayers. He is not and cannot be doing the work for which the pension plan will pay him if he is working full time in Florida. The D.C. Fire Department isn’t a private company that can reward long service with a golden parachute. This is a job underwritten by the public through confiscatory taxation. Especially at the high pay level involved, the job is a public trust. It is a trust that this scam burns to ashes.

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