The workers’ comp case that San Luis Obispo won’t discuss

October 27, 2010


San Luis Obispo city officials are refusing to answer questions about a workers’ compensation claim filed on behalf of San Luis Obispo Fire Chief John Callahan, who died last summer, slated to cost the taxpayers about $7,000 per month.

Information about workers compensation claims is supposedly open to the public. CalCoastNews has contacted multiple San Luis Obispo city hall staff, city council members, and state employees, none of whom will comment on the Callahan case.

In refusing comment, these officials are either claiming the issue is covered under privacy laws, are declining to discuss the filing or are failing to return emailed questions from CalCoastNews.

Callahan, 61, died suddenly of a heart attack on Aug. 18 while playing baseball on a city soft ball league. Participants in the league are required to sign a waiver in order to protect the city and other public entities from monetary claims.

“In consideration of participating in the San Luis Obispo Parks and Recreation Softball League, I hereby waive, release, and discharge any and all claims for damages, death, personal injury, or property damage which I may have, or which may hereafter accrue to me, as a result of my participation in said program,” the waiver says.  “It is further understood that this waiver, release, and assumption of risk is to be binding on my heirs and assigns.”

After 32 years with the Los Angeles Fire Department, Callahan retired as a deputy chief and began drawing his retirement of approximately $170,000 a year. Then in Nov. 2005, Callahan was appointed San Luis Obispo fire chief and continued to draw his retirement plus his chief’s salary.

In order to be fully vested in CalPERS, a worker has to have been employed by an agency for five years. Callahan was about 10 weeks shy of five years when he passed away.

If he is not awarded workers compensation, Callahan’s widow will continue to receive his retirement from Los Angeles and about $1,500 a month from his time in San Luis Obispo.

However, if it is determined Callahan was on the job when he suffered a heart attack or that the heart attack was caused from his work as a fire fighter, his widow could be eligible for a workers compensation claim of tax free compensation.

California workers compensation consultant Tim Brown said that information on workers compensation claims is public, but in this case, a request would have to be mailed and he expected a lengthy reply period.

“I’ve already had my hand slapped for talking about this,” Brown said, referring to the Callahan case. He referred all press inquiries to the department’s public relations person–who just happens to be out of the office this week.

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As has been pointed out here already by others, let’s not jump to the conclusion that Mr. Callahan’s widow was the person who started the ball rolling on filing this claim; I do agree with the outrage about how much this will cost the city of San Luis however. Certainly $15,000 a month should be enough for someone to live on (we should all be so lucky) and I do not begrudge Mrs. Callahan for what is rightfully hers, it is just that our city cannot keep on paying out to pensions and settlements like the additional amount that is being asked for in this case. Most likely the city officials involved in this are attempting to keep it under wraps due to citizen outrage that is justifiable at the amount and the timing, but mostly because if the rules were being followed, Mr. Callahan was not eligible based on his time that he served. I understand that he was close, and if it were ten days or two weeks, maybe one could argue that it would be okay to go around the time factor; but ten weeks? As someone else here asked, would the city be so forthcoming for someone in a lower position?

Obviously, the City of San Luis Obispo and the City of Bell have a lot in common.

Deceit, Secrecy, Appearance of Corruption, and Excessive employee compensation!

So, if my math and this article are correct, my understanding is that the chief’s widow will continue to collect $14,166 per month from City of Los Angeles and $1,500 from the City of San Luis Obispo for a total of $188,000 per year. But, since that is apparently not enough, the survivors (his widow I assume) have filed a worker’s compensation claim because the Chief died while playing softball? So, if the survivors are granted the claim, the taxpayers will be on the hook for an additional $84,000 per year for a grand total of $272,000 per year until his wife dies?!?

EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE, should be insulted with this fact if it is true. This is beyond greed, this is absurd.

Amen!! This is absolutely unacceptable. It’s getting to the point now where either the hogs are going to back away from the trough on their own or the taxpayers are going to start sharpening their butchers knives…

Reminds me of when a “trust fund” was opened right after the chief passed — even though his children are grown and he gets a whopping retirement…

Karen Velie will be interviewed about this story Wednesday at 4:35 on KVEC 920 AM radio.

I LOVE your last sentence. This is what KILLS me that people don’t understand. You can fee or tax or whatever a business to death but at the end of the day ALL the costs will be past on to you the consumer. So you are only screwing yourself when you want to see them (businesses) pay more.

I’m glad someone gets this basic priciple!

Call me old fashioned, but personally, I thought that a well publicised public funeral for a public employee should have been reserved for someone dying in the line of duty… not playing baseball.

In any event, look anywhere around town and you will discover the grandest of the buildings are for public employees, often set next to the humble dwellings of the local taxpayers… the neoclassical firestation next on Madonna Road comes closest to mind.

I am sure our $300,000 city manager can answer this question,” if the population of our fair city has grown only about 1000 folks in the last decade, how come the city budget has grown 4 to 5 times?”

Something to think about:

Thank you, CCN, for training your spotlight on this issue.

O.k. do I understand this right. They (family) are trying to claim that when he was playing ball, he was on the JOB!!??

Well I have to clean my computer screen from the mess of my head EXPLODING all over it.

First double dipping and now this??? How much do we the tax payers owe civil servents for working?? They act like they are doing God’s work and we should be beholden to them (cash wise) no matter what amount.

Has anyone or everyone else got to the point like myself of saying,’ ENOUGH IS ENOUGH ALREADY you greedy BASTARDS!!”

It’s not clear from the article whose idea it was to file the claim. Certainly the family would need to sign off on it, but I have the feeling that the impetus likely came from within city government. Certainly the city is doing its best to keep a lid on it.

Great lead, CCN.

They just never seem to be able to get enough, do they?

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