Compensation explanation

In May I reported in this column that the Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty would be retiring next May after three years on the job. The chief angrily denied the report to a local TV news reporter. Then last month we reported in this paper that Hagerty had filed a workers’ compensation claim with the city. The chief, I’d learned, was claiming he suffers from hypertension, presumably brought on by the job. Fair enough. A lot of people have high blood pressure in this hectic world. The chief said his health was no one’s business and refused to confirm or deny that he had filed a claim. The city, the chief’s employer, refused to release the list of city employees who’ve filed workers’ comp claims. We made a formal public records request for that list; the city stuck to its guns and said no. Health and privacy issues tie their hands, city officials said. We don’t agree, but at this point would have to take the city to court to get our way.

We argue that if the city can’t reveal any health-related information, even if an employee has filed a workers’ comp case, then how come we get press releases from the police or fire departments telling us that a police officer has been injured in some incident or a firefighter has suffered smoke inhalation? What’s the difference? Does the injured firefighter or police officer sign a waiver on his or her way to the hospital allowing that information to be released? The reason we think the chief’s workers’ comp filing is public information is because we are talking about a public person. What’s more, high-ranking officials in the California Highway Patrol have been in the news lately for filing suspicious workers’ comp claims just before retiring. The practice has been dubbed “Chief’s disease.” We’re not saying that’s what our chief was up to when he filed right about the same time that he was reportedly telling city department heads that he was planning to retire next spring. But we do operate on the theory that such a combination of information is worthy of investigation, which sounds like a Johnnie Cochran statement.

Anyway, it turns out I was wrong about the chief filing a workers’ comp claim, and for that I apologize. Actually he filed two claims—one for hypertension and one for a bad back. Boy, I can relate to that bad-back business. But it doesn’t really matter now. Both claims were denied. The city has 90 days to consider claims and uses a third party to investigate them.

For most of the summer I’ve been trying to get the backyard part of my irrigation system to work. Prior to moving into this house, my experience with irrigation systems was a garden hose with a cheap sprinkler head threaded onto the end and moved by hand every 20 minutes or so. But now I have this complex system controlled by a Raindial digital timer and five valves under a cover that sits in the sidewalk just outside my garage. Every other section of the system is spewing like clockwork—literally. But there’s been a month-long drought in the back yard and the birch and fruit trees are dying. I monkied with the valves—more precisely smacked them with a Crescent wrench—and twisted the timer dial around and around, all to no avail. Then this week, I witnessed a miracle. I’d turned on the garden hose one evening to water one of those wilting fruit trees. In the middle of the night I awoke and remembered I’d forgotten to turn off the hose, which I promptly went outside and did. As I was brushing my teeth the next morning, I heard an unusual sound coming from the back yard—the sprinklers were on. I am at a loss for an explanation. I’m just not going to worry about it.

Trying to figure out a backyard irrigation system haunted my dad to his dying day. The night before he died, as he lay in the hospital bed, slipping in and out of consciousness, he instructed my brother-in-law to “get me those three-eighths-inch hex-head nuts out of the garage.” In his mind the old man was out there in the back yard of his Sun City West home, fiddling with the irrigation system that he could never get to work quite right. He died working on the damn thing. That’s not going to happen to me.