High-ranking officials are leaving the Chattanooga Police Department.
Chief Bobby Dodd and the majority of his command staff submitted their resignations on Monday. Among them are Deputy Chief Tommy Kennedy and Assistant Chief Kirk Eidson. Assistant Chief Randy Dunn submitted his resignation a few weeks ago.
That leaves Assistant Chief Stan Maffett, who will take over as interim chief once Dodd’s resignation becomes effective Dec. 31. The mayor announced a committee to search for a permanent replacement.
"I began my career with the city of Chattanooga in 1986, and I have enjoyed the many professional and personal friendships I have been fortunate enough to develop over the past three decades," Dodd wrote in his resignation letter.
"While I look forward to spending more time with my family and friends in retirement, I will miss working with and for such a great group of professional men and women that put on a badge and serve their communities," he wrote.
Attempts to reach Dodd and Kennedy Monday were unsuccessful.
The sudden exodus of high-ranking officials comes as Mayor Andy Berke’s pension task force is considering cuts to the city’s fire and police retirement system.
An analysis completed in November looks at the impact on the pension fund if several changes are made, including elimination of the deferred retirement option plan, or DROP; reduction in the cost-of-living adjustment; a minimum retirement age of 55; and a lower multiplier used to calculate pension benefits for new hires.
"From the time I took office, Chief Dodd and I have been in communication with each other about the age of the command staff," Berke said by phone Monday. "Each and every one of them has their retirement in."
Dodd is looking at other opportunities, potentially in the private sector. Dunn submitted his resignation so he would still qualify for the DROP, and Eidson and Kennedy told Dodd they were leaving, too, the mayor said.
When asked if issues related to the pension fund led to the police chief’s resignation, Berke said Dodd had previously considered retiring after 25 years with the department and could not pass up a private-sector opportunity.
More firefighters and police officers have retired this year than usual. The Chattanooga Fire and Police Pension Board has approved 36 in 2013 so far. Typically, the board approves about 20 retirees a year. There are another 55 employees who are currently eligible for retirement.
Of this year’s retirees, four in the fire department ranked battalion chief or higher. Three in the police department ranked captain or higher.
Those numbers do not include the officers who resigned Monday.
Earlier this month, Chris Wilmore, pension board president, warned of a mass exodus from the fire and police departments if deep cuts are made to the retirement system, like the ones included in the 1999-era scenario reviewed in November.
"I believe this scenario is irresponsible to the taxpayer, as it will drive a mass exodus of employees from all levels in the fire and police departments, which will put public safety at risk during a time when it’s the No. 1 issue for our community," he said in a prepared statement.
Though there is deep concern in the fire and police departments over the pension task force, a cascade of events could have led to Dodd’s and the command staff’s sudden exit, said Jack Thompson, president of a local firefighters union and a task force member.
If employees qualify for retirement after 25 years, they may not be leaving because they’re scared of what’s happening with the pension fund, he said.
"It definitely affects their decision," he said. "My concern is when people leave prior to that."
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