Retired Gary firefighter wins $25,000 fight for vacation pay
Post-Tribune staff report April 24, 2013 4:49PM
Gary Deputy Fire Chief Bonearl Black, left, salutes during the national anthem during city's 9/11 observance September 10, 2010 at City Hall in Gary. | File Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 28, 2013 7:57PM
GARY — A protracted battle between the Gary Fire Department chief and a 35-year veteran ended Tuesday with a ruling by the Gary Fire Civil Service Commission, which ordered the city to pay retired Deputy Chief Bonearl Black more than $25,000.
Four commissioners, Randall Williams III, Juana McLaurin, Lewis Rodgers and Ronald McMiller signed the four-page ruling that supports Black’s claim he was owed $25,040.14 in vacation pay.
“He’s waited almost a whole year for money he earned,” Black’s lawyer, MacArthur Drake said Wednesday. “He was pleased with the outcome, but it should not have gone this long.”
Black retired in May and had accumulated 157 vacation days since he was hired in October 1966. He did not receive the money on his final check and when he could not convince Chief Teresa Everett that the money was his, he filed a complaint with the commission.
Black also sought his final clothing allowance check of $250 and 16 hours of overtime he submitted when he was called from vacation April 8, 2012, to the scene of a serious train crash in the city’s Miller section. The commission determined the clothing allowance expense was beyond their authority, but agreed that the city owed Black the overtime.
At the train crash, Black responded when he was called by the radio dispatcher and told of the emergency. During testimony, the commission learned that Everett told him to leave, but then Public Safety Director Richard Ligon overrode her order.
Black’s hearing began in September, but when the commission was set to rule, a controversy arose over the legitimacy of two board members whose terms may have expired. That matter was eventually resolved and the hearing was concluded April 18.
Drake said the city has never refused to pay vacation time when a firefighter retires. “There may be a dispute over the number of day, but never an outright refusal to pay,” he said.
City spokesperson Chelsea Whittington declined to comment on whether the city would appeal, or when Black might be paid, saying it is a personnel matter.