Chandler City Councilman Lowell Huggins denied a published report last week that he is collecting a pension from his service as a police officer without putting in enough time to qualify for benefits.
Huggins said he served with the Chandler Police Department from 1965 to 1985, spending about 4 1 /2 years as an unpaid reserve officer. This would give him 15 years of paying into the statewide pension fund for police officers, just enough for him to collect payments once he turned 62.
He was fired in 1985 for not obeying an order to disassociate himself with the Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang. Huggins, a motorcycle enthusiast, said the real motive for his firing was his plan to run for council, which he wanted to do because other officers were being fired unjustly.
"Things are far fairer now," he said.
Huggins, now 62, said he began receiving $1,118 monthly from the pension fund last September, but this fact became more public last week after the Chandler Police Local Personnel Board approved a list of former officers to receive payments.
These votes usually are a formality, said Glyn Soehner, Chandler benefit programs supervisor, because reviewing each case would be impractical. "We don’t have to approve a retiree before he or she retires," he said.
City Councilwoman Donna Wallace’s memo to City Manager Mark Pentz on Friday asked for more information about Huggins’ retirement status, among other things.
She said she received calls from outraged constituents over the weekend, objecting to his pension because he was fired, along with questions about his service.
"I’ve gotten a lot of calls from retired public safety officers, and they’re just mad about what they read," Wallace said.
Huggins said he rejoined the force as a paid officer in May 1973 after switching to reserve status to complete his education.
According to a letter to Huggins from the Public Safety Personnel Retirement Fund, provided to the Tribune by city spokesman David Bigos, his hire date was moved to February 1970 to give him credit for three prior years of paid service in the retirement system.
Officers make paycheck contributions to the pension fund, matched by their employers and pension fund investments, said Dave Nielsen, interim administrator of the public safety retirement plan. Under state statute the benefits can be cut only if the officer stole from or defrauded an employer or the retirement system, he said.