Chief wants workers’ comp
Top cop Bruce Hagerty files with city for work-related medical condition
The News & Review has learned that Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty recently filed a workers’ compensation claim for a condition of hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Hagerty was hired two years ago from his job as chief in Ridgecrest, where he had landed after a 28-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Two weeks ago a source told the CN&R the chief was planning to retire next March, after slightly more than three years on the job. Hagerty, when confronted with our report, told the local television news station that the information was not true and that this paper was guilty of irresponsible journalism.
This week he again strongly denied he had ever discussed any plans for retirement with anyone.
“There is not and there has never been a plan for me to retire in ‘06,” Hagerty said.
When asked about the workers'-comp claim, which, if granted, could protect up to half of his retirement salary from taxes, Hagerty refused to comment, saying it was private information.
“I don’t talk about my personal health,” he said. “That is between me and my family. I have no obligation to talk about any medical issue.”
When asked how he felt physically, the chief responded tersely, “no comment.”
Bob Koch, the city’s human resources and risk management director, said he could not release the list of city employees who’ve filed recent workers'-comp claims.
The city has maintained that workers'-comp claims are not subject to public disclosure because revealing them introduces the suggestion of health care issues, which are private. The city, as employer, has an obligation to protect its employees, Koch said.
Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware, a public-interest group, and former counsel of the California First Amendment Coalition, said that workers'-compensation claims are indeed public information and rejected the idea that a claim is none of the public’s business.
If that were the case, he said, whenever a cop or firefighter is hurt on the job, that information could not be made public, when in fact it is every day.
Koch said he could not reveal Hagerty’s income, citing a recent Bay Area court case as precedent. The city’s Web site places the range of yearly salary for a chief between $90,441 and $126,966. An employee who succeeds in his or her job—"We call it walking on water,” Koch said—can receive merit increases, which in the case of the police chief would max out at $152,359.
Koch explained that once a claim is filed the city has 90 days to either accept or reject it and, like most cities, uses a third party to investigate the claim. In either case the claim is then sent to the state. An inquiry with the state Department of Industrial Relations came back with the box checked that it was unable to locate a case on file at the state level for Hagerty.
The number of years in the Public Employees Retirement System (Hagerty now has 33) determines what percentage of working income an employee will receive after retirement. With 33 years as a California police employee under his belt, Hagerty is eligible for 90 percent. Koch said an industrial disability retirement is reserved for those in the safety jobs like police and fire. Going out on such a retirement, he said, guarantees the employee will receive 50 percent of his salary tax free for life.
The News & Review made a public-records request July 8 to see the list of claims. After repeated calls to Assistant City Attorney Alicia Rock, we were told on July 12 that she couldn’t talk to us on the phone because she was in the middle of writing a letter to us that would be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
When asked if she could talk to us on the phone rather than write to us, the receptionist who answered the phone said, “This is just what I was told.” She then agreed to fax the letter to us. It denied our request, citing the “Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the California Public Records Act exemption and personal privacy rights.”
City Manager Tom Lando said he had no comment on the matter.