Straying from a policy of prohibiting employees from “double dipping” — working beyond a retirement date and collecting both a pension and a paycheck — Miami’s city manager has elected to retain Fire Chief Maurice Kemp for an extra year.
Kemp was slated to retire March 24, a date set when he enrolled in the firefighter pension trust’s deferred retirement option plan, which allows employees to continue working for a set period while a monthly pension benefit is paid into a tax-deferred account. But City Manager Daniel Alfonso agreed to keep Kemp an extra year, saying he needs more time to finish important initiatives and guide a young, relatively inexperienced department.
“We’ve had in the last three years unprecedented attrition in the fire department. We’ve retired more than 250 firefighters of all ranks,” Kemp said Thursday. “A third of our firefighters have five years or less on the job. That presents excitement but it also presents challenges.”
In what he says will without a doubt be his final year in a post he has held since 2009, Kemp will be paid a $200,000 salary — a 10 percent trim — while also receiving his $214,000 annual pension, earned before the city commission slashed retirement benefits in 2010. He won’t increase the value of his pension — and therefore shouldn’t cost the city extra money by staying — but will be enrolled in a 401k-type retirement account.
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His deferred pension nest egg is valued at $934,000 by Miami’s firefighter and police pension trust fund.
We need the experience, temperament, evenhandedness and institutional knowledge of Chief Kemp to guide the department one more year.
Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso
“I feel strongly that we need the experience, temperament, evenhandedness and institutional knowledge of Chief Kemp to guide the department one more year,” Alfonso wrote in a memo Wednesday to city commissioners. “In March of 2017, we will name a new chief; more likely than not, an internal promotion.”
But Alfonso also acknowledged that in keeping Kemp, he’s departing from a policy that for years has barred employees from lingering at the city beyond their set retirement date. In 2013, Mayor Tomás Regalado vetoed legislation that would have also allowed Miami’s constitutional officers to receive a salary and pension by continuing to work after retirement. At the time, he said the legislation was unfair in that it afforded new privileges to only a select group of employees.
But in Kemp’s case, Regalado noted Thursday that city law allowing the retention of the fire chief and a few other senior city employees already exists. He said keeping Kemp is what’s best for the city because there are no obvious internal replacement candidates, even though succession planning is a key benefit of deferred retirement plans.
“There’s no senior staff ready to take [the job] on,” Regalado said.
Miami’s fire union prefers to see an internal replacement and the upward mobility that comes with a new chief. But union president Freddy Delgado said he won’t criticize the decision, since Kemp has done a good job as chief and the union has no say in the matter anyway. Still, outspoken police union president Javier Ortiz says Kemp’s retention is a “slap in the face” to rank and file firefighters and police officers still smarting from the 2010 cuts to their compensation.
“Chief Kemp is an honorable man and an excellent leader. You knew for years when his DROP date was up and you didn’t plan,” he wrote Tuesday in an email to Alfonso, who responded Wednesday with his own memo to commissioners.
Kemp said his request to stay one more year isn’t because he’s irreplaceable. He said he simply thinks it’s the best thing for a department that he’s been with for three decades.
“I’m not irreplaceable. If I left, the fire department would survive,” he said. “But I think, and the manager agreed, that it would be best for the fire department and the citizens of Miami if I stay for a year.”