Board questions deputy mayor's place in fire pension system

Administration says Robert Maloney is still a fire department employee

April 25, 2013|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Members of Baltimore's fire and police pension board are questioning whether one of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's top aides should remain part of the lucrative pension system that covers sworn public safety officers.

Administration officials say Robert M. Maloney — a career firefighter — has worn multiple hats within city government since becoming a deputy to the mayor in August. He is a sworn paramedic who responds to emergency calls, they say, while as a mayoral aide, he monitors agencies including the Health Department and the Mayor's Office of Information Technology.

The Fire & Police Retirement System's Board of Trustees is looking into whether Maloney should continue to be covered by the public safety pension system now that he works at City Hall.

"We're trying to get to the bottom of it," said Fire Capt. William "Ray" Hudson, the pension board's vice chairman. "We've never had a deputy mayor who got the fire pension, but we've never had a fireman who was a deputy mayor. We don't want to push a member out who should stay in, but we also don't want to keep a member in who should be out."

Maloney, 47, declined to comment for this article.

The public safety system generally offers bigger pensions than the Employee Retirement System, which covers other nonelected municipal workers. For instance, a firefighter who retires after 25 years receives a pension equivalent to 60 percent of his or her salary, while city workers with the same tenure get about 42 percent on average, according to pension officials.

Abraham M. Schwartz, the legal counsel to the board, declined to comment on Maloney's situation. Speaking generally, he said, a worker who moves from one city pension system to another would upon retirement get a blended pension that reflected the level of benefits for the years served in each.

Maloney, who holds the rank of fire lieutenant, earns $132,000 annually as one of the mayor's three deputies. The question the board is considering is whether he should continue to accrue pension benefits through the fire and police system.

The board has asked the mayor's chief of staff, Alexander M. Sanchez, to provide a job description for Maloney. Board members also considered hiring the Venable law firm to provide an answer, but they rejected that option when they learned the legal work could cost up to $30,000.

In an April 11 letter to board members, Venable partner James A. Dunbar wrote that the legal work needed to reach a definitive conclusion about Maloney's status would be "demanding and closely scrutinized."

City Solicitor George Nilson said his office analyzed the issue for Maloney before Rawlings-Blake promoted him last year. Nilson said his staff determined that Maloney could remain a member of the Fire Department — and therefore continue to earn his agency pension — while working as one of the mayor's top aides.

"We evaluated it, and we concluded that the arrangement was OK," Nilson said. "He is still employed at the Fire Department, and his pension is not jeopardized."

Maloney is one of three deputies to Rawlings-Blake. (She did away with the title "deputy mayor" last year and renamed the positions "deputy chief.") The two others are Kaliope Parthemos, who is deputy chief for economic development, and Khalil Zaied, deputy chief for operations.

Maloney, whose formal title is deputy chief of emergency management and public safety, heads the Baltimore office that coordinates the city's response to emergencies such as hurricanes. In addition to the health agency and information technology office, he monitors the police and fire departments and the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice.

Officials noted that members of the fire and police departments pay up to 10 percent of their salaries into their pensions, while municipal workers currently do not contribute from their salaries.

Rick Hoffman, president of the firefighters union, said he sees no reason Maloney's pension should be in jeopardy. "The man is on the fire payroll," Hoffman said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's still a member of the Fire Department."

Administration officials said Maloney has an emergency response car equipped with lights and siren. He frequently monitors emergency frequencies and responds to the scene of emergency calls, they said.

Rawlings-Blake announced Maloney's promotion in August, saying he would "increase his role and responsibilities." She credited him with successfully coordinating city emergency operations during blizzards, a tornado, an earthquake and flooding.

"Put simply, Bob gets things done and works his heart out to keep the people of Baltimore safe," she said then.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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