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Sat, Dec. 14

Fire board issues official decision on Misner/Warneke retirement claims

PRESCOTT - With a written decision on Feb. 23, Prescott's fire retirement board made it official: Fallen Hotshots Sean Misner and William Warneke were eligible for the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, starting on their first day of work.

In two 12-page decisions, the Prescott Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Board put its earlier decisions into writing, ordering that the eligibility of Warneke and Misner was "effective as of April 9, 2013."

Both men started work on the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew that day - just two and a half months before they died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, alongside 17 others.

Their widows, Roxanne Warneke and Amanda Misner, later filed claims with the City of Prescott, seeking survivor benefits through the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS).

The city has maintained that Misner and Warneke were seasonal employees (along with 11 others on the crew), and not eligible for PSPRS.

After a three-day hearing in late January 2015, the five-member local fire retirement board disagreed, voting unanimously to award survivor benefits to the widows and families of Misner and Warneke.

This week, the board met again to finalize its decision. Its attorney, Donna Aversa, had previously written a decision for both claims, based on the board members' findings at the Jan. 30 hearing.

Along with setting the eligibility date, the board's written decision also states that both Hotshots spent a "substantial amount" of time deployed to fight wildland fires, and were "regularly assigned to hazardous duty" - among the requirements for eligibility in the PSPRS.

The decisions also note that Misner and Warneke both worked at least 40 hours a week, and were "engaged to work more than six months in the calendar year 2013."

None of the board's discussion about the written decisions occurred in public session this week. After meeting in closed-door executive session for about 30 minutes, the board returned to public session and immediately made a motion and approved the written decisions.

Afterward, City Clerk Dana DeLong said she planned to send copies of the written decisions to the city, the claimants, and the state PSPRS.

Later, City Attorney Jon Paladini said he had received the written comments - setting off a 35-day appeal period for the city.

Neither Paladini nor Mayor Pro Tem Chris Kuknyo were certain Monday afternoon when the matter might go before the Prescott City Council, although Paladini said it likely would not occur this week.

(Because Mayor Marlin Kuykendall serves as the chairman of the local retirement board, he has chosen in the past not to take part in the discussion about possible city appeal of the board's decisions.)

Kuknyo said Monday afternoon that the council likely would discuss the matter first in executive session.

Any decision to appeal the board's decision on the Misner and Warneke benefits would have to take place in public session, Paladini noted.

Along with the appeal decision on Warneke and Misner, a decision is also pending on whether the city will appeal Yavapai County Superior Court Judge David Mackey's earlier affirmation of the retirement benefits for the family of fallen Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft.

Paladini said the city will have 30 days after Mackey's signed written decision to decide whether to appeal that decision to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks.

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