Peoria Fire Chief Settles Personal Injury Lawsuit With City

The Peoria Fire Department chief settled with officials over a claim he filed in which he said he suffered personal injury as the result of a dispute over his inclusion in a retirement benefit system. The chief of the Peoria Fire Department will resign as a part of a pension settlement he reportedly agreed to with the city, according to reports.

Peoria Fire Department Chief Thomas Solberg was reportedly embroiled in a long fight with city officials over his pension. Solberg arrived in Peoria from Missouri in 2009, according to a report from The Tucson Citizen.

Solberg was reportedly in the Arizona State Retirement System for 14 months before he was removed because of his designation as a fire department employee. State officials asserted he should have been placed in the state's retirement system specified for public-safety employees.

Nevertheless, the Arizona Public Safety Personal Retirement System (APSPR) was reportedly initially unwilling to include Solberg. Officials from the state agency contended he was not a frontline officer performing hazardous duties, precluding him from entry.

However, other fire chiefs who had risen through the ranks in Arizona had qualified for the specific retirement plan system. For his part, Solberg was loath to join the APSPR because he said it allotted him fewer retirement benefits than he had anticipated prior to accepting the position in Peoria.

A firestorm of bureaucratic brinkmanship erupted, and Solberg grew increasingly impatient with the city's failure to aid him in entering into his preferred retirement system, according to The Arizona Republic.

Solberg moved against the city, contacting an attorney and filing a claim against officials. Solberg's suit alleged that city officials were aware that Solberg would not quality for the Arizona State Retirement System, but that they failed to properly inform him before he accepted the job and moved across state lines.

Solberg's claim notice originally had estimated losses at $1.6 million, according to The Republic. The lawyer he worked with affirmed such a sum was calculated based on the amount of money Solberg could have made had worked another 10 years in Missouri. He further sought an additional $2 million for personal injury, pain, suffering and economic damage, his lawyer affirmed.

City officials were reportedly steadfast in their assertion that they were unaware Solberg was not able to enter the Arizona State Retirement System. Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett contended the former head of the city's fire department had been a part of the Arizona State Retirement System. Barrett affirmed ASRS rules changed its policy in the midst of Solberg's tenure, leading to his removal from the system.

Nonetheless, Arizona State Retirement System officials asserted they did not institute any sort of policy change. Rather, they reportedly acknowledged they made an error in the past by not detecting that the former chief of the Peoria Fire Department had been improperly included in the system.

Blame for the mistake, according to Arizona State Retirement System officials, laid with Peoria city officials, not with the agency.

Solberg's attorney argued his client was led to the position in Peoria under false pretenses and that he was entitled to earnings he could have reaped had he remained in Missouri.

Solberg reportedly settled last week with city officials, though the exact terms of the agreement were not made public, his injury lawyer affirmed. Solberg will receive $150,000 as part of the settlement and agreed to resign from his post as chief of the city's fire department, effective November 10, according to The Republic.

Moreover, by agreeing to settle the case Solberg reportedly waived his right to effectively appeal the matter. Solberg is reportedly slated to receive $20,000 in his final paycheck and an additional $78,000 payment in January of 2012. He will also be allotted a $30,000 payment that will be used to fund his retiree health savings account, and $22,000 that will go into a deferred compensation plan.