Capital retirement panel shuffled Injured officers due new hearing

December 01, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins has replaced a member of a retirement board that was called a "kangaroo court" by attorneys for three injured police officers and ordered a new hearing of their case.

Clearly angry that the officers still are waiting to be retired with benefits, Mr. Hopkins dismissed a member of the Public Safety Disabilities Retirement Board who failed to show up for a court-ordered hearing Wednesday. Lawyers for the officers threatened to have the city held in contempt after Bruce Hogg, one of five volunteers on the board, did not arrive.

The mayor has replaced Mr. Hogg with Joseph F. Rodowsky, a retired insurance executive and former city alderman. Mr. Hopkins also placated the attorneys by scheduling a new hearing for 3 o'clock this afternoon.

"I just don't understand why they haven't been retired," said Mr. Hopkins. "You're either physically fit to be a police officer or you're not."

It's been nearly four months since a Circuit Court judge ordered the board to reconsider retiring Officer Scott Collins, who suffers from a degenerative spinal injury. Even though he's been assigned to a desk job, Officer Collins has to take muscle relaxants and arthritis drugs to make it through work every day. He has been trying to retire for more than two years.

Officer Anthony Davis, who has an immobile thumb, also has been kept on light duty after the board refused to retire him and Officer Collins with benefits in November 1990.

Former Officer Katharine Wheeler was denied benefits by the board in 1989 but was retired anyway by the previous police chief, John C. Schmitt.

All three officers were declared disabled by the city's Medical Review Board, which is staffed by physicians and separate from the retirement board. But under the current system, the disabilities board has the final say on whether to retire a disabled officer with two-thirds of his salary, the maximum allowed by city code.

Annapolis lawmakers have begun an investigation into the long wait for hearings and the lack of an effective appeals process when benefits are denied. The mayor, meanwhile, is questioning whether the board is necessary.

"To be very honest, I think that any decisions made relative to disability retirement should be solely left into the hands of Z ZTC physician," Mr. Hopkins said yesterday. "I think the city should turn these matters over to a physician . . . and the only appeal should be to court."

The police chaplain, the Rev. Robert McCoy, called on city officials in October either to abolish the board or reform it. Mr. Hopkins appointed a three-member committee to come up with recommendations. The committee will meet Dec. 9 to discuss the issue.

Board Chairman John H. Fellowes, a retired Navy captain, has complained that the board's reputation is being tarnished by the recent criticism.

In an interview last week, he said the officers do not meet the board's definition of "disabled." He said the officers can work even though they can no longer fire a gun, which prevents them from being certified.

But Mr. Fellowes acknowledged that a separate appeals process should be set up to avoid having only one body act on cases.

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