Police Chief Is Out: Virginia Beach Council Won’t Increase Retirement Age For Public Safety Employees

The City Council does not plan to change the mandatory retirement age for public safety employees, meaning Virginia Beach will have to say goodbye to Police Chief Jim Cervera in the next two months after he turns 65.

“I moved to Virginia Beach because I fell in love with the city and because I thought it was an excellent police department,” Cervera said Monday morning after leading the department for nine years. “I have had 42 good years. I think the next generation is going to do absolutely fantastic.”

A few council members floated changing the retirement age last year, but Mayor Bobby Dyer said the issue won’t be discussed before the chief is required to leave at the end of April.

“There’s no will on the council to change the mandatory retirement age,” Dyer said. “We plan to leave it at 65 for now.”

The City Council first instituted a retirement age of 65 for public safety employees in 1965, according to City Attorney Mark Stiles. Federal law enforcement officers must retire by age 57, which is one of the lowest required retirement policies. In contrast, Virginia state police troopers must retire by 70 years and six months.

In August, Councilman Guy Tower was the first to ask the council to raise the mandatory retirement age to 70 in an effort to keep Cervera around. On Monday, Tower declined to comment.

Last year, Dyer, 69, supported raising the mandatory retirement age. He considered it age discrimination. But now he says he understands why people want it to stay the same.

In a September survey, the majority of first responders wanted to keep the mandatory retirement age at 65. Ensuring growth of the organization and having opportunities for advancement are the main reasons the rank and file don’t want to increase the retirement age, said Brian Luciano, president of the city’s Police Benevolent Association. He said the police force also didn’t want a policy changed to keep one person.

“I think it took a little longer than it needed to, but I think the council came to the right conclusion,” Luciano said. “It was the will of the vast majority of employees, so I hope they took that into account when they made their decision.”

Later in the day, the chief sent an email to the department thanking his staff for their work.

“You are the best educated, best trained, best equipped and most devoted officers in our profession,” he wrote.

Dyer said he and the council will focus on hiring a new city manager, and then let the new manager select a police chief. He said they will all then be able to discuss changing the age for retirement. He said it will be hard to see Cervera go.

“I was really proud to work with Jim Cervera over the years and he did an exemplary job of leading the police department, especially during a time of crisis,” Dyer said.

Over the past few weeks, the council members have reviewed a list of qualified candidates to replacing Acting City Manager Tom Leahy, who is not interested in the position and would like to retire. Dyer would not say how many candidates are in the running.

Leahy declined to comment on who will replace Cervera in May, even for an interim appointment.

“We have to be careful about making decisions now that the future city manager has to live with,” Dyer said. “This is a discussion we can have in the future.”

If the topic resurfaces, Luciano said he hopes employees will be surveyed and their opinions will be considered again.

“I hope we don’t have to have the discussion again,” he said.

From www.pilotonline.com

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