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Deputy fire chief takes Florida job but cuts D.C. pension deal

Update 3:41 p.m.: Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer confirmed that Ellerbe went on leave without pay August 31. According to this Florida news report, Ellerbe joined the Sarasota department July 20.

Original post: A D.C. deputy fire chief who is nearing the age when certain pension benefits will kick in remains on the District's employment rolls, despite having taken over as the head of a Florida fire department this summer.

Kenneth Ellerbe, who has served the District since 1982, has been placed on leave without pay in Washington, and is now chief of the Sarasota County Fire Department, according to local officials and the county's Web site. (Here he is giving holiday season ladder safety tips to Floridians.)

The Washington Times reported today that the arrangement appears to be aimed at allowing Ellerbe to reach age 50 before retiring from the District's department in order to receive pension money more quickly.

Ellerbe meets the years-of-service requirement for retirement -- 25 years
-- but is one year shy of the age requirement, according to the city's retirement guidelines.

If Ellerbe retires before reaching 50, he would have to wait until he was
55 to begin collecting the benefits. Records show Ellerbe's current annual salary is close to $150,000, and the maximum allowed for pensions is 80 percent of the employee's annual pay, according to the city's retirement guidelines for firefighters.

Ellerbe did not immediately return calls for comment.

The Washington Times reported that D.C. Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer confirmed that the arrangement was made to allow Ellerbe to receive pension checks earlier.

On Monday, however, Piringer said he believed that was the case, but was not certain, and referred a Post reporter to the city's human resources department for an official explanation.

"Apparently he had the number of years in, but not the age," Piringer told the Post. "Generally speaking, I would think it doesn't happen that often. Do the math -- there's probably not that many people in a position to retire or leave that have the years of service but not the age."

An HR spokesman, Andrew Gerst, confirmed Ellerbe's status but said the Post would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request for additional information.

Ellerbe was hired by the city in April 1982. April will mark his 28th year of service, as well as his 50th birthday.

-- Jonathan Mummolo

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  December 14, 2009; 3:29 PM ET
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What a surprise.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 14, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

This is, in fact, typical of Kenneth Ellerbe, who has abused the District's and DCFEMS Deparartment's rules during his entire career when they did not suit his needs. Ellerbe has a history of firing people he does not like or agree with, engaging in reverse racism, and generally acting under the "rules are made to be broken" theory of management.

His history is well known within the Department and may well be part of the reason that the agency was willing to bend the rules in order to move him out of the Department as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, it is shameful that the Department or District would allow someone to basically stay on the payroll to accumulate benefits while working full time at another job. This arrangement should be terminated immediately and Ellerbe should be made to wait for his pension like anyone else that chooses to retire before they reach the required age and service criterion.

Posted by: dcfems | December 14, 2009 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Wow, dcfems. It sounds like your waiting for your pension to kick in too.
If knowledge of DC Code serves me right a DC Employee can take up to 6 months of LWOP in a calender year if they so chose without penalty. Doesn't sound like abuse but you may want to be proactive and help the DC Gov and DCFEMS address this overall retirement issue instead of whining about somebody who you might not ever see again. Double dipping or just a thought??

Posted by: jmanthom | December 15, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Is this retirement benefit provided to everyone in Mr. Ellerbe's situation or is he being accorded preferential treatment? If it is the latter, it should not be tolerated. DC taxpayers will be paying for this.

Also, from what was posted in the 3:41 pm update, it appears that Mr. Ellerbe was being paid to work by the taxpayers of both DC and Sarasota, Florida from about July 20th to August 31st, 2009. Was he commuting back and forth to work at both fire departments? Was he working 40 hours per week for DC plus 40 hours per week for Sarasota? That's highly unlikely. The more likely situation is that he worked only for Sarasota for that period and DC taxpayers paid for work that was never performed.

Won't the Mayor or Council do something about this, please?

Posted by: DCResident22 | December 15, 2009 9:03 AM | Report abuse

What is the problem this has been going on for years. That's is one the major advantages of having LWOP afforded to the employer it gives them carte-blanc to grant one whatever it deems necessary. I have seen LWOP granted to employees who were given chances to go to another city to find a job...if their job search is a success then there's no break in service...and if it is not...then they return with no questions asked. I always say that many times we get caught up in the salaries of many of our public officials but if you take time to look at their perks, it would rival any NFL player on a bad team. Like I am hearing there's one employee who's guaranteed 20 year credit for 5 years of service when and if they complete their contract. Therefore the current employee is under 40 and is guaranteed a pension from the City when he/she reaches the age of retirement. So, can you imagine by the time they reach retirement age and has employment with other agencies, companies and earned their retirement packages too. Just saying DC monies are being tied up now in 2010 and the payout can go way beyond 2030 or beyond as they lay on the beach in Waikiki

Posted by: PowerandPride | December 15, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

If Chief Ellerbe is getting this "benefit" it is because it suited Rubin and Brian Lee, the Assististant Fire Chief. They put Ellerbe in a do nothing job, like they have done to other officers, but those folks were either already eligible to retire, or very close to it. This was done to two former Fire Marshals (Chief Fleming and his replacement). Chief Fleming did was he was expected to do, which was retire.

Chief Ellerbe had been stuck in that do nothing job for about two years, and had at least another year left before he was old enough. Ellerbe wouldn't have had a problem with sitting it out in his do nothing job for another year, but I guess Rubin and Lee wanted to get rid of him because he wasn't a "yes" man, and because the wanted his slot for some Deputy Fire Chiefs of their own selection.

So, if this is an outrage or a problem or a waste of taxpayers money or whatever, lay it on the Rubin/Lee/Schultz administration.

Posted by: tm7333 | December 15, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

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