It's been two months since a volunteer board was ordered to reconsider retiring an injured Annapolis police officer. Officer Scott Collins is still waiting for his hearing.
Members of the Annapolis City Council last night sharply criticized the delay and other flaws in the system of retiring police officers who are hurt in the line of duty.
"From what I've heard tonight, this process is broke," said Alderman Ruth Gray, a Republican who represents the city's 4th Ward. She and other council members expressed dismay over the long wait for hearings and the lack of an effective appeals system when disability benefits are denied.
Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins appointed a committee of three council members to study the Public Safety Disability Retirement Board and recommend changes.
The Rev. Robert McCoy, head chaplain for the Annapolis Police Department, has charged that three police officers could not retire with full benefits because of serious problems with the volunteer board.
But the chairman, retired Navy Capt. John Fellowes, defended the panel's actions. He said the officers could not be retired because they weren't "permanently disabled," and could not be given partial benefits because the police contract stipulates "all or nothing."
A nine-year veteran with the force, Officer Katharine Wheeler, has been unable to collect benefits because the board concluded she had a pre-existing medical condition three years ago. Officer Collins, who suffers from a degenerative spinal injury, and Officer Anthony Davis, who has an immobile thumb, have been kept on light duty after being denied benefits.
The hearing was called after Mr. McCoy urged the council last week to either abolish or reform the board.
Under the current system, the board has the final say on whether to retire an officer. When Officer Collins' benefits were denied, he appealed for another hearing in Circuit Court. Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. ruled in his favor and ordered another hearing, which is scheduled for late November if a physician can be found to volunteer on the board.
Mr. Fellowes complained last night that the board's reputation had been tarnished by the recent criticism.
"I am not a dictator," he declared repeatedly during the hearing, leading council members to reassure him that his work was appreciated.
Alderman Ellen Moyer, D-Ward 8, recommended several improvements, starting with having a secretary record hearings. She also said the city should resolve conflicts between the retirement board and a medical board that evaluates whether officers who are injured in the line of duty can work again.