Hampstead Fire Chief Loses Supreme Court Appeal

HAMPSTEAD – Hampstead Fire Chief Michael Carrier has been involved in a dispute with the New Hampshire Retirement System for the past several years over a difference in interpretation of a state statute that led to the Retirement System’s determination that he owed the System money.

Carrier’s final appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court has resulted in that body’s denying his appeal and affirming the Retirement Board of Trustees’ decision.
The Supreme Court decision said, “We conclude that the petitioner has failed to demonstrate that the board ‘acted illegally with respect to jurisdiction, authority or observance of the law, whereby it arrived at a conclusion which cannot legally or reasonably be made, or abused its discretion or acted arbitrarily, unreasonably, or capriciously. Accordingly, we affirm its decision.”
Carrier has been fighting a decision that requires him to repay money he received from that entity while he was a full-time chief in Hampstead. Carrier disagrees with the Retirement System’s interpretation of the law and has been fighting the decision since 2010.
Carrier retired as fire chief from the Londonderry Fire Department in 2007 and at that time qualified for retirement benefits from the New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS). He was subsequently hired as a full-time fire chief in Hampstead, a position he held until April 10, 2010, when the Hampstead Board of Selectmen agreed to redefine the chief’s position as part time, reducing his hours.
At that time Carrier told the Board of Selectmen he disagreed with the Retirement System’s interpretation of the law and was fighting having to repay the retirement benefits he had received since beginning work for Hampstead in February 2009. He had issues with the Retirement System’s interpretation of his appointment for a fixed term.
In June 2010, the Town of Hampstead paid $14,400, its portion of the disputed amount as Carrier’s employer, but beyond that has stayed out of the situation, deeming it between Carrier and the Retirement System.
Carrier has continued to be employed part time since April 2010, not exceeding the allowable 32 hours under the law contained in House Bill 2, which took effect in July 2011.
His full-time employment as a fixed term interim Fire Chief occurred prior to passage of this law, which now requires retirees to work part time only in order to remain eligible for retirement benefits. The New Hampshire Retirement System claims that Carrier’s qualification as a permanent firefighter pre-empts him from the fixed term official status during the first 13 months of his employment by Hampstead, which is what he disputes.
Commenting on the Supreme Court’s decision, Carrier said, “I don’t necessarily agree with the court’s decision, as I believe they overlooked or looked past the plain and ordinary language of the statute. But it is the decision of the court and as I have said all along, I will certainly respect their decision. There was a difference in the interpretation of the RSA and the New Hampshire Supreme Court sided with the NHRS. I respect that and will follow the NHRS course of action.
“I will continue to do the job I have a passion for and while doing so to serve the Town of Hampstead,” he concluded.
As a result of the decision, Carrier owes the Retirement System more than $70,000.

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