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Published: Tuesday, 7/13/2010

Two city officers won't be forced to retire; mayor apologizes

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Lt. William Moton, left, Mayor Mike Bell, center, and Police Chief Mike Navarre discuss the mayor's decision reversing an order for Lieutenant Moton and Sgt. Karen Sue Martensen to retire. Lt. William Moton, left, Mayor Mike Bell, center, and Police Chief Mike Navarre discuss the mayor's decision reversing an order for Lieutenant Moton and Sgt. Karen Sue Martensen to retire.
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Two Toledo police officers who were being forced into retirement because they had turned 65 can keep on enforcing the law in Toledo as long as they are able, Mayor Mike Bell said Monday.

The mayor said he had rescinded letters ordering the two officers to retire, and he also publicly apologized.

"This issue is no longer an issue. These two officers can stay as long as they are able to stay and be able to perform a public service for our citizens," Mr. Bell said.

The mayor held a news conference to announce the change and apologized to Lt. William Moton, who was present, and Sgt. Karen Sue Martensen, who did not attend, "for how this all got twisted around."

He said the letters were initially sent because he was concerned that by not enforcing mandatory retirement, the city could be held liable.

Mandatory retirement has been a provision in the city's labor agreement with the Toledo Police Command Officers Association since the 1970s. The provision also is in the agreement with the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association.

"What we have done is researched through our law department to find out if that same language is compliant to where state or federal law is. What we found is the contract in some ways is out of line with what federal law mandates," Mr. Bell said.

He said the administration would come up with alternative standards for when officers should be required to retire, though he said not too many cities have a standard.

"What we have to do at some point in time is establish the physical fitness standard," the mayor said.

"I've always known that the city would do what is right," Lieutenant Moton said. "I do want to continue with the job that I love."

City Law Director Adam Loukx said the administration didn't conclude that the policy was age discrimination.

"We didn't make any definitive finding one way or the other. Sometimes you gotta do what's right. It's not something that was forced upon us by any particular legal statute," Mr. Loukx said.

The two officers had received written notices telling them that if they didn't retire by July 2, they would be fired. But the city extended the deadline for 30 days, prior to the final determination to rescind.

Lieutenant Moton, a detective, and Sergeant Martensen, a road patrol supervisor, received letters from the city indicating their recent 65th birthdays required their retirement by the end of the year.

Sergeant Martensen was one of the first female officers to join the Toledo police force. She was hired at age 38, and thus could not accumulate the same pension that her male counterparts could by age 65, her attorney, R. Michael Frank, pointed out.

Mr. Frank welcomed the administration's step back on the issue, saying it was "refreshing."

"I think it was a misunderstanding of the law," Mr. Frank said. "These are two wonderful police officers and everybody knows that."

Mr. Frank had complained that other officers had been allowed to continue working with no threat of retirement.

He said the policy had an adverse impact on minorities and women because they generally have shorter tenure than white male officers who were traditionally hired as police officers. Lieutenant Moton, who has 27 years of service, is African-American.

Terry Stewart, president of the Toledo Police Command Officers Association, said the retirement-age deadline has been in the contract since 1974, but he can't recall it being enforced.

"It seems like the city again is coming on like a big bully. You're going to be terminated if you don't do A and B. It just seems a little funny at times," Mr. Stewart said.

As to setting a new standard for when a police officer can no longer perform adequately, Mr. Stewart said, "if he wants to make changes, that's what negotiations are for."

Police Chief Michael Navarre said the force has 576 uniformed officers. He said there have been 23 retirements this year and eight to 10 more are anticipated. The department is scheduled to hire a class of 30 recruits Nov. 1.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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