Former fire chief, pension board cleared

MANATEE — After months of rumor and speculation over the $1.6 million lump sum retirement payment to a retired fire chief, the investigator Tuesday cleared the Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue District Pension Board and the former fire chief of any wrongdoing.

The investigation concluded the pension board did nothing illegal in awarding the lump sum payment, which was allowed under its policies. And the former chief, Tom Hennessy, did not misuse his position or coerce the pension board in securing the lump sum payment, said the investigator, Interim Chief Michael Johnson.

Johnson said he had interviewed every employee within the fire district and every board member, asking very detailed questions during his investigation.

Johnson also addressed the denial of a lump sum payment to firefighter Lester W. Godwin III last year after Hennessy had been approved for a lump sum.

The pension board denied Godwin’s request, based on its responsibility to protect the retirement fund, Johnson said.

Had the order been reversed, and Godwin requested the lump sum payment first, he might have been approved, and Hennessy denied, Johnson said.

“I think you made the right decision,” Johnson said, who urged that no future lump sum payments be allowed.

Johnson and Assistant Chief J. R. Thayer said the firefighters union support a ban on lump sums, and supports the more traditional monthly retirement payments.

For more, see Wednesday's Herald.