Fort Worth City Council members were nearing a vote tonight on whether to pare compensation for two police officers catastrophically injured while on duty, including one 10 years ago.
The city has been paying officer Lisa Ramsey, shot and paralyzed while attempting to arrest a suspected drug dealer 10 years ago, and officer Richard Lambing, who suffered a severe brain injury in an auto wreck three years ago, line-of-duty injury leave. The city, which is self-insured, also pays Worker’s Compensation lifetime economic benefits to both officers.
Although city councils have extended Ramsey’s leave several times since her injury, the city staff recently determined that state law requires workers comp payments made by cities to be “offset” by line-of-duty injury payments.
The council tonight is considering a staff recommendation to deny any more line-of-duty injury leave payments to both officers.
Ramsey, who is paralyzed from the chest down and hasn’t worked since November because of complications from her original injury, would have three choices. Only one – returning to work at least parttime while drawing down some of her two-plus years of regular leave – would continue to compensate her at her current $112,666 annually until she gets to full retirement in November 2018. Her current pay and benefits include $77,293 base pay and $35,373 in lifetime workers comp.
Ramsey could also medically retire at 50 percent less than her current pay and benefits. If she can’t return to work, she can draw down her regular leave until it’s extinguished in two years and continue to collect her lifetime workers comp. Assuming she still can’t return to work by the end of two years, Ramsey would be forced into medical retirement.
Ramsey, who is assigned to a unit that does background investigations on police recruits, is asking Police Chief Jeff Halstead to allow her to work from home.
“I know it sounds like a lot of money,” she said in an interview of her pay and benefits, “but my cost of living has tripled because of this injury.”
Halstead said in an interview that the city is waiting on Ramsey’s physician to clear Ramsey to return to work. But he said network security requirements would preclude the police from allowing Ramsey to work from home in her backgrounds job.
If Ramsey’s physician clears her, “we’ll have to work collectively to determine what’s the assignment,” Halstead said. “I don’t think her current assignment in backgrounds is an attractive assignment to work from home.”
Lambing, who isn’t expected to be able to return to work because of his injury, would have different choices if the council votes to deny his continued injury leave.
Lambing, whose $117,489 current pay and benefits include $77,293 in injury leave and $40,196 in lifetime workers comp, could medically retire at $97,316. He could also draw down his two-plus years of regular leave while continuing to draw lifetime workers comp, allowing him to continue collecting $117,489 during that time. At the end of two years, he would be forced to medically retire.
Council members grappled with the issue during an afternoon work session.
“Ultimately, we’re going to have to go back and follow the law,” Mayor Betsy Price said in an interview.
Ramsey and Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Sgt. Steve Hall characterized the state statute as offering minimum requirements that cities can exceed by choice, but Price said, “that’s not what our counsel is advising.”
She expected the council to vote tonight. The two possibilities - approve the continued injury leave payments but require offsets, or in Ramsey's case, deny further injury leave and direct her to negotiate with the city, Price said.
Councilman Jungus Jordan asked during the work session whether the state law had changed since 2003.
Given that city councils have extended Ramsey’s injury leave several times, Jordan asked, “why for 10 years has this (issue) never been brought up?”
“Unfortunately, we’re putting two of our heroes in a situation where we’re changing their compensation,” he said.
Councilman Danny Scarth said “I think the default position for us is we want to be most generous that we can.
“At the same time, we’ve got to be in compliance with the state statute,” he added.
Scarth, who uses a wheelchair, sympathized with Ramsey’s position.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “It does cost more. And we certainly don’t discount that. I don’t discount that.”
Hall said the council’s vote, if it goes against the officers, is “just a continuation of a message that’s been resonating out of City Hall for the last year and a half. One, we will change the rules midstream if we have to.”
And second, city leaders’ promises to honor public safety employees’ sacrifices “for their entire career” are a “fallacy,” Hall said.
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter