DuPont Fire Chief Greg Hull has announced his resignation, just days after state officials notified him they were stopping his pension following a review of his “independent contractor” status with the south Pierce County city.
DuPont Mayor Michael Grayum said in a statement that Hull was stepping down after four years for “personal reasons.” He later told The News Tribune those reasons included Hull’s loss of his pension.
“Our community is grateful to Chief Hull for the professional fire department we have today,” Grayum said.
Hull said in a short statement forwarded by Grayum that the uncertainty about his pension drove his decision to leave the city.
"I am 66 years old and I came to DuPont after retirement to assist Public Safety through a difficult transitional period," he said. "I cannot continue to work for DuPont due to technical issues with the Department of Retirement Systems without jeopardizing my retirement."
Hull’s last day is Friday.
Officials at the state Department of Retirement Systems said Wednesday that the agency notified Hull on May 20 it had stopped his pension benefit following a review of DuPont’s employment of independent contractors.
Hull, who didn’t return phone messages seeking comment, earned the pension after a 40-year career with the Lakewood fire district where he retired as assistant fire chief three years ago.
Hull could resume his pension benefit starting next month if he files for retirement after his separation from DuPont.
The agency also looked into the city’s relationship with two other independent contractors who weren’t identified because the findings are preliminary. Grayum identified them as the former museum coordinator, who was laid off, and former Police Chief Ron Goodpaster, who was made a full-time employee before retiring this year.
The scrutiny came as a result of a story by The Associated Press that found Hull and others retiring into the so-called LEOFF-1 pension system received late increase in salaries that boosted their retirement pay and put added costs on the state-run pension plan.
The AP also reported that Hull’s status as a contract fire chief allowed him to continue receiving his retirement pay while he was being paid by DuPont. His total annual compensation: more than $300,000 a year, including $184,000 from his pension.
Marcie Frost, the director of the Department of Retirement Systems, told the AP it was examining rules related to contractors.
LEOFF-1 retirees can return to work as independent contractors with no impact on their pensions, but retirement pay can be impacted if that same retiree is hired to a LEOFF-1-eligible position and is deemed a city employee.
“There’s a lot of analysis that goes into” determining if someone is a contractor or employee, said Dave Nelsen, the agency’s manager of legal and legislative services.
Nelsen said the state agency did complete a report on the employment status of Hull and the other two employees and forwarded a copy to the city. He declined to discuss its findings because they are preliminary.
He said the city has disputed the analysis and provided additional information. The state agency is reviewing the city’s response and is expected to finalize the audit this week.
Nelsen said the city could be liable for pension overpayments if they occurred as a result of officials not reporting accurate information.
Grayum said he was told DuPont city staff checked with the state agency before hiring Hull as an independent contractor and no red flags were raised at the time.
“It was surprising that (the state) would have any problems and issues with it now,” he said.
Grayum said the state agency’s finding complicates his city’s ability to hire a police chief and the ability of other communities to draw on retirees to provide seasoned leadership at a discounted price.
Grayum said Hull brought stability and professionalism to a department that has endured rocky times. Former chief Rick Stillwaugh was fired in 2003 after run-ins with the law related to heroin addiction. Five years later, former chief Chris Jensen resigned in the wake of a whistle-blower complaint he filed against a former mayor.
Hull arrived in DuPont in 2009 under a contract for services with the Lakewood fire department. He became an independent contractor following his retirement from Lakewood in January 2010.
Grayum said in the announcement that the city would work with the Washington Fire Chiefs Association to find an interim chief.