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Personnel-exchange agreement

The idea that D.C. officials did not ask to review the file raises additional questions because of the way Chief Ellerbe left the city in 2009.

The Times reported in December 2009 that when Chief Ellerbe took the Sarasota job, instead of resigning from the department, he departed under an unusual personnel-exchange agreement that placed him in on-leave-without-pay status.

A fire department spokesman said at the time the arrangement was made to keep Chief Ellerbe in the department until he turned 50 so he could collect his pension immediately upon his retirement instead of deferring his benefits until age 55, as he would have to do if he simply resigned.

Staying on the District’s books would have allowed Chief Ellerbe, whose salary was $149,892, to collect up to 80 percent of his final pay, or almost $600,000 over the five years until he turned 55.

The Times obtained a copy of the personnel-exchange agreement, which notes that the period of the exchange was to run through April 10, 2010 — Chief Ellerbe’s 50th birthday.

Fire officials said at the time that then-Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin was unaware of the exchange agreement until finding out from news reports. An assistant chief, Brian K. Lee, signed off on paperwork authorizing the agreement in July 2009.

But after reports in The Times, officials sent a letter to Chief Ellerbe in December 2009 that revoked the personnel-exchange program that had allowed him to serve with both departments at once. Chief Lee ordered Chief Ellerbe to return to the District. Chief Ellerbe resigned from the D.C. fire department in January 2010.

Mr. Gray did not address the agreement specifically when he announced Chief Ellerbe’s appointment in December 2010.

“I think he operated with integrity,” the mayor said at the time.

On the agreement and its end date, Chief Ellerbe said in an email that the date “was selected to limit any financial exposure that may have continued beyond my 50th birthday for the District.” Asked to elaborate in a subsequent phone interview, Chief Ellerbe criticized the reporting of his personnel-exchange agreement and declined to comment.

He said he enjoyed his time in Sarasota and “learned a lot regarding executive management.”

The Gray administration likewise declined to revisit the subject of the personnel-exchange agreement or why it did not inquire about Chief Ellerbe’s performance, despite the fact that the agreement says the stated purpose for the “temporary assignment” was for Chief Ellerbe to “acquire experience as a fire chief in a municipal fire department and thereby be better able to provide the experience of leadership in an executive manager’s role.”

The transition

Chief Ellerbe’s appointment as D.C. fire chief was met with skepticism from some people who thought Mr. Gray should have conducted a national search for the position.

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