New fire chief puts off retirement
Barrett was to leave department next year

By Silla Brush
Times-Union staff writer

Mayor John Peyton's administration said Rick Barrett, the mayor's selection for Jacksonville's new fire chief, will adjust his retirement plans so he can serve past his slated retirement date next July.

Barrett, 52, must rescind his participation in the Deferred Retirement Option Program, a retirement plan begun in 1999 for police and fire officers. About 200 police and fire officers are scheduled to leave next year.

Peyton spokeswoman Heather Murphy said Barrett is aware of the issue and is thinking about how best to address it.

"In no way is he going to allow this to take away from his commitment to this job," she said

Barrett could not be reached last night.

The retirement plan lets participants accumulate a nest egg available the day they actually retire. Barrett is scheduled to leave next July, but a provision in the plan lets appointed and elected officials get out of the program to serve in their new positions.

Next year is the first year police and fire department officers will retire under the plan.

A handful of Peyton appointees in the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office recently rescinded their participation in the program, said Dick Cohee, an administrator at the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund.

"When the DROP plan was developed several years ago, it was anticipated that there might be some situations when a new sheriff or a new fire chief or a new administration may wish to draw talent from within the department and not force them to retire," Cohee said.

Murphy said the new mayor's transition committee that recommended Barrett to Peyton this week knew Barrett was enrolled in the plan and knew of the opt-out provision.

Cohee explained that when a participant removes him- or herself from the program, the employee can then continue his job uninterrupted. If he opted out, Barrett would be able to enroll in the program at a later date.

City Finance Director Cal Ray said Barrett could get out of the program up until the day he is scheduled to retire.

Barrett said at a news conference yesterday that training younger officers is his top priority because the retirement plan will mean about 200 experienced officers will leave the department next year.

The department has 1,100 firefighters and EMS personnel.

Staff writer Silla Brush can be reached at (904) 359-4401 or via e-mail at silla.brushjacksonville.com.