Fate of retirement board debated at hearing ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY--Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

December 10, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Annapolis' pension fund was being steadily drained becaus police officers were retired with disability benefits at a record rate until an oversight board was established, board members testified last night.

Defending the embattled Public Safety Disability Retirement Board, which was created in 1986, two members said they saved taxpayers money by stopping frequent abuses of the retirement system.

But critics countered that the board's zeal in preventing false claims has left three police officers who were hurt in the line of duty with nowhere to turn. Also, two opposing opinions were voiced at the hearing on whether to reform or abolish the board.

The Rev. Robert McCoy, senior chaplain of the Annapolis Police Department, urged lawmakers to disband the five-member volunteer board or staff it only with physicians. But City Attorney Jonathan Hodgson suggested instead that the Medical Review Board, made up of three doctors, be abolished.

Officers or firefighters who have suffered disabling injuries appeal to doctors on the Medical Review Board to declare them disabled. Their cases are then reviewed by the disability board, which decides whether their injuries were job-related and whether they can still work. Mr. Hodgson said the medical board should have been disbanded when the disability board was created.

At that time, the city was retiring police officers and firefighters on disability pensions at a record rate. The city increased the benefits to two-thirds of an officer's salary, but set up the disability board to provide greater scrutiny.

In the past six years, the disability board has decided 12 cases, said retired Navy Capt. John H. Fellowes, who stepped down recently as board chairman. Only three, involving police officers, have lingered with appeals.

Those three officers have been seeking disability pensions for two years. The board has come under fire for frequent delays and related problems in those cases.

Officers Anthony Davis, who has an immobile thumb, and Scott Collins, who suffers from a degenerative spinal injury, have been kept on light duty since they were hurt while breaking up fights and conducting other police work. Former Officer Katharine Wheeler, who hurt her back when she was thrown against a wall by a violent mentally ill man, was retired without benefits.

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