Officials with the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System have accused Henryetta City Manager Raymond Eldridge of making false misrepresentations.
The accusation surfaced in civil litigation filed earlier this year in an effort to resolve a five-year dispute.
“Despite the fact Eldridge knew he was ineligible to participate in OFPRS, he generated false time sheets, billing statements and other reports in an effort to deceive OFPRS into allowing his salary as city manager to be credited toward entry in OFPRS,” the pension system alleged in a court filing.
Eldridge and his attorney, Daniel Gamino, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. However, they did file a document with the court that denied allegations of misconduct without offering specific explanations.
The dispute centers on Eldridge's efforts to continue accruing firefighter pension benefits after being promoted from fire chief to city manager in December 2006.
After being named city manager, Eldridge retained the fire chief's position and attempted to continue accruing firefighters pension benefits by having the city continue to make pension system contributions that included 8 percent withheld from his paycheck plus the city's 13 percent share.
Pension system officials rejected the payments, arguing that Eldridge wasn't eligible to continue participation in the program because of state law restrictions on holding dual offices. They also said the firefighters pension system “is only available to full-time firefighters of participating municipalities or fire protection districts who perform the essential functions of fire suppression, prevention and life safety duties in a fire department.”
Pension officials contend he didn't meet those requirements after his promotion.
As the dispute raged, the Oklahoma attorney general's office and state Legislature were called into the controversy.
First, Robert Jones Jr., executive director of the firefighters pension system, asked then-Attorney General Drew Edmondson to issue an official opinion on whether having one person serve as both city manager and fire chief created a conflict of interest and violated the state's dual-office-holding prohibition.
The attorney general responded with a June 2008 opinion that said it is possible legally to hold both positions, but whether it was lawful in this particular case would depend on information outside the scope of review of the attorney general.
The Legislature then entered the fray, passing a law that specifically prohibits fire chiefs of paid fire departments from also serving as “police chief, city manager, mayor or any other position that impairs the ability to perform the duties of a fire chief.”
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