A Prescott panel has approved full retirement and survivor benefits for the family of a fallen Granite Mountain Hotshot.
The hearing took place Wednesday and Thursday at City Hall before the Prescott Board of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS).
On Thursday afternoon, the panel voted 4-1 to approve benefits for Andrew Ashcraft's family.
"It's, I'm sorry, it's a huge relief, because my husband, he provided and supported for our family - as a wonderful husband and a wonderful father in life," said an emotional Juliann Ashcraft. "And, this is a way I can show my children that he's going to continue to provide for us in death - because he earned it."
Ashcraft's widow had filed a claim that he should be eligible for participation in the state's PSPRS, which has a higher payout than the Arizona State Retirement System the city placed him in, and that the family is entitled to survivor benefits.
The Mayor of Prescott, Marlin Kuykendall, was the only board member to vote against awarding Juliann Ashcraft benefits.
He said he felt he wasn't informed enough, after just two days, to make a decision in her favor.
Fellow board member, AJ Vilardo, disagreed with the mayor.
"He (Ashcraft) was a firefighter," Vilardo said. "There were 19 of them; six covered under a pension plan and 13 under a different plan. I find that despicable."
Juliann Ashcraft's attorney Pat McGroder said, "We are very grateful to the board, who considered fairly and objectively the evidence in the case and followed the law," said attorney Patrick McGroder.
The City of Prescott received a letter concerning the claim on March 17 from the law firm representing widow Juliann Ashcraft and the couple's four young children. The letter said Andrew Ashcraft was qualified for full-time benefits through PSPRS because he "consistently worked in excess of 40 hours and clearly was a full-time employee." The letter also stated that Andrew Ashcraft earned $15.03 per hour, the same rate provided to full-time employees, and that a city roster had indicated that Andrew Ashcraft was designated as a permanent crew member.
"I am so thankful to the board who put Andrew into the appropriate retirement system," said Juliann Ashcraft. "I knew that we weren't asking for anything that he didn't deserve."
Since the deaths of 19 of Prescott's Granite Mountain Hotshot crew last June, the city has contended that only six of the Hotshots were permanent employees and entitled to full survivor death benefits.
The remaining 13 including Andrew Ashcraft were considered temporary seasonal employees and the city said they weren't entitled to full survivor benefits.
"I would give back every penny, every benefit - everything I will ever see - for just two minutes with my husband, to just hold him and tell him I love him," said Juliann Ashcraft. "And, that's not an option."
As for other surviving family members of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew who might bring similar claims against the City of Prescott, employment attorney Ken Peace with Resnick & Louis said this decision doesn't necessarily set a legal precedent.
But, it could have an impact.
"I think that the board might be considered to have acted arbitrarily, if they deny benefits under the same circumstances," said Peace.
The City of Prescott has not responded to CBS 5 News' request about whether or not it plans to appeal the retirement board's ruling.
Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Wednesday, September 17 2014 4:31 AM EDT2014-09-17 08:31:11 GMT
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