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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : latest news : local May 22, 2015

8/14/2013 6:00:00 AM
HOTSHOTS BENEFITS CONTROVERSY - City: No violation of policies
Les Stukenberg/The Daily CourierJuliann Ashcraft and attorney Tom Kelly address members of the media and supporters during press conference Aug. 7 at the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Juliann Ashcraft and attorney Tom Kelly address members of the media and supporters during press conference Aug. 7 at the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza.
Cindy Barks
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - City officials say the findings of an in-house inquiry into the personnel practices surrounding the benefits for the seasonal Granite Mountain Hotshots were definitive.

"No improper promises were made to promote Granite Mountain Hotshots seasonal employees to permanent positions," stated a city news release on Tuesday.

In response to the city statement, however, the attorney for one of the Hotshots' widows called the assertion "specious and self-serving."

The dispute over the benefits that are owed to the survivors of firefighters who died June 30 fighting the Yarnell Hill fire continued Tuesday afternoon - first with a closed-door executive session by the Prescott City Council to discuss "line-of-duty fatalities"; then with a city news release on the findings of an internal inquiry into the matter; and ending with a written response from attorney Tom Kelly, who is representing Juliann Ashcraft, the widow of fallen Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft.

The city statement maintained that the internal inquiry had found no violations of City of Prescott employment policies.

"We just don't have anything that would tell us that there was a promise to Andrew Ashcraft that (the city) would make him a permanent, benefited employee," Prescott City Attorney Jon Paladini said after Tuesday's City Council meeting.

He said the inquiry - conducted by the city's human resources and legal departments - began soon after allegations began surfacing about improper handling of the death benefits for Ashcraft.

"When the claims came out that there were certain promises made about employment status, one of the first things we did was we checked with anybody in city management, checked with HR - were promises ever made?" Paladini said.

At the end of the review, he said, the city concluded that Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis' statement was "definitive."

In the news release, Willis stated: "I never promised to promote

any seasonal Granite Mountain Hotshot to a permanent position. Employment decisions such as promotions are required to go through a screening process and interview with the Human Resources Department, and final decisions must be approved by the city manager."

In a written statement Tuesday evening, Kelly called the city press release "an oversimplification of legal issues relating to Andrew Ashcraft's employment status."

Kelly added: "Andrew worked 40 hours a week year-round in a 'full-time' position formerly held by an employee who moved to an engine crew for the City of Prescott. Additionally, he received a raise when he filled the supervisory position."

Kelly's statement disputed the city's claims of a "thorough investigation." While acknowledging that "given the tragedy of June 30, 2013, it is difficult to verify the promises made by (Ashcraft's) direct supervisors," Kelly called the city's brief in-house interviews with staff members "suspect."

Paladini said the fact that Ashcraft was working a full-time schedule was, in part, "a recognition that he had four kids, and there was an effort by the fire department to keep him employed. When he worked overtime, he got time and a half."

But in order for a position to be deemed full-time, Paladini said, it needed to be a budgeted position. "The wildland division had six permanent positions," he added.

The issue over benefits arose in recent weeks, as Juliann Ashcraft has maintained that her husband was a full-time city employee, and therefore entitled to the same death benefits as the permanent Hotshots.

Soon after the June 30 tragedy, the city released a roster of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew, which included a list of the six permanent employees - Robert Caldwell, Travis Carter, Eric Marsh, Jesse Steed, Travis Turbyfill and Clayton Whitted.

The roster also listed 14 temporary employees: Ashcraft, Dustin DeFord, Christopher MacKenzie, Grant McKee, Sean Misner, Scott Norris, Wade Parker, John Percin, Anthony Rose, Joe Thurston, William Warneke, Kevin Woyjeck and Garret Zuppiger. It also included Brendan McDonough, who survived.

Paladini said Tuesday that the city would have more to say on the benefits issue today.

"We will be releasing some information tomorrow, authorized by the council at the executive session," Paladini said Tuesday evening. Even though executive-session discussions are confidential, he said, "The council, as the governing body, can authorize the release of some information."

Paladini declined to comment on the contents of the new information, but said the council had deemed it important enough to release it to the public

before next Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting.

Party in the Pines PAYP

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, August 16, 2013
Article comment by: J J

I can't help but think how badly she is disrespecting her husband and the others with this soap opera.

Her and her husband HAD to have had discussions over the years knowing full well what the risks and outcomes of his profession could possibly be. He no doubt loved the work he did and she supported him through it. She needs to 'nut up' to so speak and stop playing the victim role here.

Nobody wishes what happened to her and the other families upon anyone, but Mrs Ashcroft is not making things any better by pursuing this circus path.

To make things worse she is defecating on this wonderful community and the outpouring of support, love, and shared grief that we have all partaken of. I for one live a stones throw from Granite Mountain and am eternally grateful for the HotShot crew and the work they did to preserve our community.

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013
Article comment by: John Citizen

Is this funding ever going to end. The families should be thankful for what they've received and let's all move on. I personally give to the Cancer Society, for all people who die of this disease. I do believe they are thankful and hope the families appreciate what little I can donate.

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013
Article comment by: well said leo mom

many facts will come out in the future. bottom line even though the city looks bad they are following the law. if you are paying into survivor benefits then you get benefits. many widows are not entilted but mrs. Ashcraft is the only one fighting for more. if they do pay all the widows what she is asking for then yes all the town taxpayers will pay. This does not come from city funds or state this comes from you and me. All city taxes will be raised because they were not prepared for such a devastation. all familys are getting a minimum of 375,000 dollars. scholarships for wives and children are offered part and fully paid. this does not include donations that have yet to be distributed. Ashcrafts lawyer is working for free. he is quoated as saying he is not charging her. this is not a nobody cares situation this could devastate our town with tax rises and pay cuts and layoffs. the picture is so huge. Prescott has lost many fireman and police officers over the years and no some did not have full benefits. this sad situation is fueled by grief and anger.

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013
Article comment by: Jim May

In the future, let's hope any seasonal, part-time employees provide benefits for their families. This is unacceptable and the burden shouldn't be loaded onto the tax payer. If any exceptions are made for them, any future disasters must also be provided for by the tax payer. I think the public has done enough.

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013
Article comment by: No More Hot Shot Crews Outsource It

@BAO Carlos Keith: Sounds like you are firemen politically posturing.

Of course the Hot Shot Crew was respected and appreciated, why would you question that?

An outpouring of love, thanks, support, and cash donations of $10 million probably $15 M soon and Prescott didn't appreciate the H.S.? Appears that you are the ingrate. The entire town of Yarnell was not worth the lives of the 19.

As for not replacing the H.S. crew, the first reason would be obvious. Why would Prescott want to put young, productive lives in jeopardy again, for what? Replaceable property?

There are other ways to fight wildfires than putting hot shot boots on the ground.

If there is an insistence for hot shot crews...put it into private enterprise hands and let the contract roll. Prescott does not need to have it's "own" Hot Shot Crew.

Don't you understand what this mess has created for the City of Prescott, the State and Federal Government? Why would anyone want dejavue?

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013
Article comment by: maggie mae

It is sad that in this country giving one's life for their country is awarded this way. So sad for any family that has lost their loved ones in any line of duty to be so disrespected.

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013
Article comment by: @pensions and rules

If you read the standards for the hotshot crews, there are two scenarios. One requires 8 highly qualified personnel, the other requires 7. The standards refer to training, not full-time status. Also does not reference benefits at all. There is a reference to the very top tier (one or two) where it states this is a permanent career position. Arguably MacKenzie was the 7th full-timer, however he was in probationary period. Just as in private industry there is a probationary period where the new permanent employee is not enrolled in benefit program. This probationary period is generally standardized for all employees of a particular employer.

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013
Article comment by: B AO

Sheri Turbyfill, the City of Prescott at this point will be unable to re-staff the Hotshot Crew. Because, they no longer meet the certification with staff. Also, because of the political tail spin they are in several groups, people and contractors in the Wildland fire fighting business are asking for the IHC certification staff to pull their status and not re-certify the City to have a Hotshot Crew. We are very sorry for your loss. But, it is obvious to most of us that the Crew was not fully respected or appreciated. That is more dangerous than fire it self.

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013
Article comment by: Carlos V.

The unfounded claims would have greatly jeopardized our fire districts funding which would in turn jeopardize the quality at which they could operate and serve the public.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: Keith T.

Of course the City of Prescott is going to say there was no Violations of Policies.

These men went to work on June 30th and haven't returned home yet. The way I see it, the families should be getting paid the rest of their lives. Time and a half after forty hours for the rest of the lives. Due the math and the payoffs already received don't even come close to it.

The city of Prescott was trying to squeeze everything out of Ashcraft and Mackenzie, and its coming back to bite them now. they worked 40 hours a week, they should have been full time employees. Now the City is looking bad on this.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: When he worked overtime, he got time and a half. over what hours?

Worked 40 hours a week city says paid time 1/2 when he worked over time. What was his normal time if it was 30hours Then why is the city wasting money again. that would be 10 hours of over time at time and 1/2 every week.
SOMETHINGS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE. Yes he has 4 kids but why was city over paying with time and 1/2 that adds up very fast.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: Pension's and Rules

@ Rose - These men at least two of them ( if national standard applies for a type 1 crew meaning 8 crewmembers vrs 6 for COP ? ) Do these standards apply or not ? Ashcraft was kept from from paying into the pension system because the city kept him and at least one other according to National Standards , from full time even though one of them clearly worked full time . He was not layed off . Paladini said in this article " the fact that Ashcraft was working a full-time schedule was, in part, "a recognition that he had four kids, and there was an effort by the fire department to keep him employed. In that recognition admittedly, that an effort had been made to keep him and in doing so it seems at least a violation of national standard . By keeping him employed and not declaring him full time or laying him off , also looks to be an exploitation of him and his family . Had he and one other been given full time status w full benefit the city would have been in compliance with the national standard for a type 1 crew and thus be contributing members to a pension .

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: Fitzgerald Hockkenbaughkner .

I am a stanch conservative, my in-laws are stanch liberals, when we get together for family affairs we learned the hard way that unresolvable opinions are politely no longer discussed because all it accomplishes is alienation of otherwise kind loving people. My suggestion as a divided city we simply STOP OPINIONIZING THIS DISASTER. The Courier is reveling in the ongoing attention, thus poking it with a stick daily , but this issue has been bludgeoned to death over and over and neither side of the issue is likely to win points or change minds. It has become so unresolvable that we have now turned into pack dogs trying to see who can hike their leg the highest. IF EVERYONE WOULD STOP COMMENTING IT WOULD DIE DOWN AND GET SETTLED BY THOSE IN A POSITION TO SETTLE THE MATTER. I'm out of further discussion and I hope all responsible citizens will also stop the bickering by SIMPLY RESTRAINING FROM FURTHER COMMENTING.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: To Grunt Pain

What complete nonsense! Until recently, I was a single mother raising children and I worked full-time in a professional field. So, I know exactly what it takes to be successful at both endeavors. Between the $300,000+ life insurance and the $2,000+ monthly social security survivor benefit for herself and her minor children, Ms. Ashcraft has sufficient funds to allow her to stay at home and live reasonably until all of her children are in school and then to go to college for 4 years and prepare herself for a professional career. There is no reason why Ms. Ashcraft can't work full-time when her children are in middle school and high school in a field that will take her to retirement age and provide for her own retirement funds. Many of us single mothers manage to do this quite well. I believe that there is already in place a mechanism to allow the Ashcraft children reduced college tuition costs (or zero) at Arizona schools. Ms. Ashcraft should count herself fortunate to have these benefits that other single mothers do not have. It is unfortunate that she lost her husband but for her children's sake she needs to move on by dealing with her grief and preparing for the next stages of her life. Life is not always fair or easy but we all do what is necessary to survive. God bless the Ashcraft family in the years ahead.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: Scotty G.

Interesting that I see the same people trashing the city on one thread, then insulting citizens for organizing fundraisers on another.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: Prescott High School Alum

Mr. Ashcraft knew the dangers of the position, Mrs. Ashcraft was aware he did NOT have benefits, yet she supported his extreme overtime to meet expenses. If Mr and Mrs Ashcraft had truly cared about their futures, they would have secured personal life insurance. Her personal agenda is tearing the city apart.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: @ grunt pain (?)

Thank you for a most bewildering post. I hope you won't take offense, but I consider it patronizing of women. Good luck in -- and to -- the town you move to when you leave Prescott.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: Rose Smith

With all of the pensions going broke across this nation you'd think one of you would think about the big picture here. The pension is built to work on contributions by members. These men weren't paying into the system so they aren't entitled to benefit from it. It's sad but it's the way it works and I'm with all the others who say she's only making herself look bad going after benefits that aren't hers. If the City caves on this then all of the workers who pay into this system will have to help absorb the payment. This money won't come from a secret city fund, the employees and the tax payers are the ones who will pay it.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: GOOD BYE

@ Grunt Pain

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: reality hits you hard bro

Perhaps 2 kids and insurance was an option. But this day and age no one cares, all they want is an out. My mom raised 5 kids in the 60's after my dad died. Did she whine, no, she went to work and was the most AWESOME mom in the world. Everyone thinks they are entitled nowdays. Buck up, be a woman, take what you have, be grateful and move on.eq8l

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: SHARI TURBYFILL

Just wondering if you’d heard the city’s latest announcement on rebuilding the hot shots…they’re holding out on a decision for financial reasons, saying they’re not sure how much money they’ll have to pay out and how they’ll afford it. They’ve cancelled that Aug. 20th meeting they were talking about last week. There won’t be a decision this month.

Hmmmmmmm.... Election is the 26th anybody thinking the same thing?????? This town needs an enema!

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: Grunt pain

It saddens me that a woman is being attacked so badly, Ms Ashcroft has to bring up her children. Think about it for a moment, how much will that cost and college. Prescott needs to do the right thing by family, regardless of law.Stop painting a woman as money grabbing when she is simply asking for benefits for her children. This is why I will not stay into Prescott now, women are treated without respect here, this is the old boys club gone wrong. We need younger, dynamic leaders to bring Prescott into the 21st century not leave it in the 18th century. Just take a look at the town its a mess.If the Prescott leaders are so concerned about one woman how the hell can they lead a town.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: LEO Mom

My husband and son are both police officers. They and their departments have contributed for years to the Arizona Public Safety Retirement System. It isn't something you join after one's retirement or death. Like any annuity or life insurance or home insurance or flood insurance or car insurance or medical insurance policy, you have documentation and pay into it before an event occurs. The money in that retirement system belongs to the public safety personnel like my husband and son that have contributed or are contributing toward their own futures or the futures of their survivors. It doesn't belong to others. She isn't being left poor. If it's true that her husband made $30,000 or so a year, the federal benefit of a lump sum of over $300,000 non-taxable income ought to give her plenty of financial stability. Certainly enough to live on, especially when you include children's Social Security benefits times four. If it's true that millions of dollars have been raised in donations, then the family will likely get at least several hundred thousand dollars more non-taxable income. The 100 Club cut her a check immediately. That $15,000 is more than many people have dropped into their laps in a crisis. Funeral expenses were paid for by others. Death is sad, but having known many surviving family members, it's clear to me that public safety widows tend to do quite well. Some sooner than others. It seems common for widows to remarry (often another firefighter or police officer). This young woman seems to enjoy the media spotlight. She's made a name for herself. I feel for her children and the parents of her husband. I feel for the other families and friends and colleagues of the fallen. I feel for the lone survivor and his family. In my opinion, she casts a dark greedy shadow over the deaths of her husband and the other 18 men. She almost upstages their deaths. God forbid my daughter-in-law behave in such a way if my son dies in the line of duty! The grief would be difficult enough to bear without having to tolerate a media circus and theatrics.

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: In the process

During the city of Prescotts city council meeting aug 6 . The prescott city council asked the the Prescott fire dept chief . How many full time vrs seasonal fire fighters do you need ? His reply was the national standard is 8 . It is evident Prescott has been operating below the national standard in classifying only 6 of the hotshots as full time .
Also brought to light was the fact that when our city's type one resource leaves town another is to take its place . I would like to know on how many occasions our type one resource leave and if a type 1 team did in fact replace them ? If not , why not ? Was the city ever reimbursed for its type 1 team ,if one had not been called to replace the one that left ? If so was the reimbursement to the city of Prescott based on the national standard of 8 full time or was it 6 ? Or was it based on some other formula , if so what was it ? Did the city collect money for 8 when they should have collected for 6 ? Its clear there are many discrepancies around this policy , I do believe the city is trying to do the right thing . I also believe the excessive attacks on the widow is unwarranted ? Until these questions and others are answered , it would appear the city was profiting off its resource by not adhering to national standard ? In terms of the employee understanding whether or not they were full time , researching this says -Although individuals are permitted to enter into contracts freely in the United States, certain contract terms are expressly prohibited from employment contracts. Unfair labor practices, which are defined and governed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), are also prohibited from being included in employment contracts. An employment contract that contains unfair terms or unfair practices may be invalidated by the court.

Some of the reasons are - Unspecified duration - Any contract for employment that has unlimited or limitless duration, or that otherwise fails to specify a duration is invalid. To be considered a fair and legally actionable contract, an employment contract must include a specified duration, such as "for six months" or "until completion of the project.

And - One sided - Employment contracts that are grossly one-sided or where the employer has clearly taken advantage of an unsuspecting employee are unfair and invalid. For example, an employer cannot exploit an employees desperation to have or keep a job. It could appear that Mr. Ashcraft and possibly others had been "exploited" under this policy .
It seems we are in a process , accept that fact and stop with the name calling and disparagement of our city and the widows , if we are going forward with this we owe it to everyone from the families , to the citizens to get it right .

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Article comment by: Good O'l Boy Ruling the place

It appears that maybe the good ol boy network is alive and well in the community again. Cover ups, back door dealings etc etc. the only people who know the truth are sitting in an office covering their butts or they are deceased. Statements from the wives at this point are speculation, third party comments, that probably should have never been discussed with them. At the end of the day, a widow is trying to get something that that who knows what was promised or not promised. My only hope is that this is not being pushed by the IAFF. That union has been trying to ruin things around these parts for awhile. Ladies, don't let yourself be fooled by them.

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