LANCASTER, PA – The union representing Lancaster’s city firefighters said Thursday it plans to sue over the city’s retention of Tim Gregg as acting fire chief.
In a statement, Lancaster Professional Firefighters said the city may have acted improperly in keeping Gregg on after he reached mandatory retirement under the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan.
“We have concerns about the future ramifications to the firefighters pension fund and to city taxpayers if it is found that Pennsylvania pension laws and Lancaster City Codes were violated,” union President Kevin Ressler said.
Ressler is not the Kevin Ressler running for mayor. He is a 16-year veteran of the city Bureau of Fire and has been union president since 2013.
The union said it tried to raise its concerns with the city administration, but “was rebuffed in those attempts.”
Reached by phone, Ressler declined to provide further explanation of the union’s concerns.
The statement said the lawsuit will target the pension fund, Gregg and Mayor Rick Gray. Ressler said the union plans to file it next week in county court.
Gray called the threatened action baseless.
“We had three or four lawyers, including specialists in labor law, review everything we did, to ensure we we’re within our rights and weren’t violating either state law or city ordinance,” he said.
“It’s about the least concerning lawsuit I’ve had since I’ve been mayor,” he said.
Gregg, who became chief in 2006, declined to comment. His appointment as acting fire chief took effect Jan. 24. The city chose to retain Gregg rather than attempt to recruit a new chief because a new mayor will take office next year — Gray, after three terms, is not seeking re-election.
New mayors should be able to appoint whomever they want, Gray said, and it’s difficult to recruit people when they don’t know for whom they’ll be working.
The retirement plan allows firefighters to build up a lump sum in addition to their pension. When they join, their pensions are frozen, and contributions are made to a separate Deferred Retirement Option Plan account.
Gregg had to retire because he had been in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan for five years, the maximum allowed. The city determined he could be rehired, but cannot receive pension payments while he is employed.
The city was required to pay him his lump sum. It was between $160,000 and $170,000, Gray said at the time.
The union’s contract with the city runs out at the end of the year. Gray said he thinks the lawsuit might be a negotiating tactic, but Ressler said the suit is unrelated to contract talks.
“This wasn’t done overnight,” he said. “We’ve been researching this for a couple of months.”
The union is Local 319 of the International Association of Firefighters.