Retiring fire chief has $300K in unused sick pay

May 17, 2011 7:55:02 PM PDT
Doug Fry is trained to put out fires. He finds himself in the middle of one as he retires as chief of the Belmont-San Carlos Fire District. Fry is due a check of nearly $300,000 to cover unused sick days over his 36 years with the department. That is on top of an annual pension of about $159,000.

"These things were negotiated many years ago under different conditions," Fry said Tuesday morning after an executive session of the fire district at San Carlos City Hall. "I've been a good employee for this organization. In the almost 36 years I've been here, I've been sick three times."

Fry is aware that local governments across the Bay Area and across the state are facing million dollar budget deficits and service cutbacks.

Fire district commissioners are quick to praise Fry, especially as the district is facing dissolution in early October over a disagreement between Belmont and San Carlos over cost sharing. Fry is credited with keep morale and service levels high, despite the uncertainty of what lies ahead. San Carlos has been negotiating with Redwood City to provide fire protection. It also briefly considered hiring a private contractor.

Commission Chairman Warren Lieberman says the chief advised the commission he was considering retirement over a year ago and they have money to cover Fry's unused sick time. The commission asked him to delay his retirement to enlist his guidance in determining the future of the district.

"We've been planning for this," Lieberman said. "It's not an unexpected expense. You could look at it that there were certain costs that we've defrayed over the years that we didn't have to pay out."

The department also did not have to pay overtime to replace Fry had he called in sick through the years.

Recently, a controversy has erupted over payments to public officials for sick leave and vacation that are made in the last year of service. In the practice, called "pension spiking," those payments can drive up their total compensation, resulting in a higher pension for the retiree. Those ABC7 spoke with Tuesday say that will not apply in Fry's situation. His retirement benefit will be based on his pay.

Some residents along Laurel Street in San Carlos did not object to the payment, noting that it is a contractual obligation from earlier times when city budgets were not as challenged as they are today. Others said it did seem to be a large payout.

"Obviously he's going to walk away with some kind of a nice pension package anyway, so is this really going to make or break the whole deal for him if he doesn't get paid his sick days? I can't think that's the case.," resident Angie Papangellin said.

Fry's last official day on the job will be May 31. However, he says he'll be available consultation until the district dissolves in early October. He will spend his retirement with family between homes in the Bay Area and in Montana.


Load Comments