Officer keeps paychecks as dispute drags
Retirement board weighs disability case
A Hudson police officer has been receiving his $78,000 annual salary while off duty for the past 18 months as he and town officials clash over whether he became disabled on the job, officials said.
The dispute has resulted in the town paying Lieutenant David French a little more than $117,000 for performing no work, according to Hudson’s executive assistant, Paul Blazar.
“It is a shame and a waste that it is not resolved,’’ Blazar said.
The situation could continue for years, too, if either French or the town decides to appeal a pending ruling by the Middlesex County Retirement Board on French’s eligibility for disability benefits, including his pension, according to officials familiar with the system.
French, 52, has been on a combination of vacation, sick leave, and administrative leave for medical reasons since June 1, 2010, Blazar said.
He wouldn’t discuss French’s medical condition, but he said Police Chief Richard Braga opted to relieve the lieutenant of his duties after 26 years on the force because of it.
Contacted by phone, French declined to comment.
During his prolonged absence, French hasn’t been working in the 31-member department, but under his contract he is still an employee who must receive his salary, Blazar said.
French, who is currently on administrative leave, has not been reprimanded, said Blazar. Administrative leave isn’t punitive, he added; it simply requires the employee not to report to work.
Blazar said town records show French received $117,731.45 in salary from June 1, 2010, until the middle of this month.
Hudson has filed an application with the Middlesex County Retirement Board asking that French be forced to retire because he suffers from a disability that isn’t related to his job as a police officer, said board chairman Tom Gibson.
But French has challenged the application by filing his own papers to the board saying he wants to retire because his disability is work related, Gibson said. Because of privacy laws, Gibson couldn’t provide details of French’s disability.
The board is now deciding which application to accept in determining French’s retirement package, said Gibson.
Normally, he said, applications for retirements based on disability take from nine months to a year to complete. But Hudson officials and French first filed applications in December 2010 that board members deemed as “failing to meet the threshold requirements’’ for the process, Gibson said.
Both sides refiled acceptable applications in May, he said. Under French’s application, he would receive a $68,000 yearly retirement pension. The town’s application would result in him receiving $50,000 a year.
Over the next few months, each side arranged for a series of medical examinations that ended in October. On Nov. 22, the board reviewed the two applications and voted to ask the doctors who conducted French’s medical examinations for more information on their findings, Gibson said. The board is now waiting for responses to its questions. Its next meeting is today.
In the meantime, Hudson taxpayers are losing out. As an employee, French’s salary comes out of the town budget even if he’s not at work.
After he retires, the Middlesex County Retirement System will cover his pension.
After the board renders a decision, the state Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission needs to approve the retirement package, Gibson said. If the commission approves it, either side can appeal to other state panels and Superior Court.
“We’ve had some cases that have been going on for years,’’ he said.
The executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, former Shrewsbury police chief Wayne Sampson, didn’t know the details of French’s situation. But he said police departments commonly put officers on administrative leave for a host of reasons, including when officers are considered unfit for duty based on health issues.
If the officer disputes how or why they are unfit for duty, as in the case of French, said Sampson, the back-and-forth between lawyers, doctors, and others during board deliberations and appeals can be costly. “It can very quickly go for more than a year, a year and a half,’’ said Sampson. “Towns get stuck paying.’’
John Dyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.