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More on DC's new fire chief: WTOP Radio discovers tax problem; Kenneth Ellerbe meets the press; Fire Chief's Wilmoth questions the appointment.

Cick the image above for a Georgetown Patch video clip from today’s announcement. 

Fire Chief Editorial Director Janet Wilmoth’s blog critical of Ellerbe’s appointment

WTOP Radio reports on tax issue for incoming chief

Earlier coverage of Chief Kenneth Ellerbe

You probably woke up to the news here this morning that Sarasota County (FL) Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has been picked to run the DC Fire & EMS Department by Mayor Elect Vincent Gray. Chief Ellerbe was officially announced this afternoon along with Gray’s decision to keep Cathy Lanier (her late father Walt was a top fire official in Prince George’s County) as police chief and to bring back the position of Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice (Paul Quander will fill that role). 

Before we get to the press conference, there is an interesting development from the folks who bring us Fire Chief Magazine. Editorial Director Janet Wilmoth writes in Mutual Aid, a Fire Chief Blog questioning Kenneth Ellerbe’s appointment to replace Chief Dennis Rubin. Here’s an excerpt:  

I understand that all’s fair in love and politics, but this decision is wrong for a department that has shown great progress and promise with Rubin at the helm. Once placed in bottom tier of EMS programs across the county by USA Today, the department clawed its way back to prominence, adeptly responding to the 2009 Metro Rail crash. Even FIRE CHIEF columnist Bruce Evans predicted that, “In the next three to five years, the District of Columbia will have one of the premier fire and EMS systems in the United States.”taking the chief’s job in Sarasota in 2009. Six months later, however, reports surfaced that Ellerbe was “on unpaid leave” from D.C. Fire. It turned out that there was a signed agreement “between the [District of Columbia] and Sarasota County“ that allowed Ellerbe to remain employed by D.C. Fire through his 50th birthday in April 2010, which would enhance his retirement benefits to as much as “an additional $600,000.” 

Maybe not. 

Let’s take a closer look at Ellerbe. D.C. Fire hired Ellerbe in 1982, and he last served there as fire administrator before 

According to Sarasota County Fire Department personnel who served under Ellerbe’s predecessor, Chief Brian Gorski, the agency’s once thriving EMS-oriented service took a hit when Ellerbe arrived in town. 

This afternoon reporter Mark Segraves with WTOP Radio broke the news of a tax issue for the incoming chief

Mayor-elect Vincent Gray’s choice for new fire chief has been taking a tax deduction reserved for District residents, despite living and working full time in Florida.  

Records obtained by WTOP show Kenneth Ellerbe – a former interim D.C. fire chief – is receiving a $67,500 Homestead Tax Credit for his home on Alabama Avenue in Southeast. 

Ellerbe moved to Florida last year.  

According to D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue records, Ellerbe has filed paperwork indicating that he lives in the District of Columbia and is entitled to the tax break, Natalie Wilson, a spokesperson for the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue tells WTOP. 

Ellerbe says he will not take the tax break on his 2010 taxes. Ellerbe says he was not aware he was responsible for changing his status, and thought it was the responsibility of his accountant. 

Gray says he was aware that Ellerbe was taking the deduction, and anticipates Ellerbe will correct the deduction. 

Wilson says as a result of the WTOP inquiry, they will be requesting an explanation from Ellerbe. 

If the Office of Tax and Revenue finds Ellerbe is not entitled to the tax deduction, he would be compelled to pay the District for back taxes. 

Last year, Roll Call newspaper found several members of Congress were improperly taking the Homestead deduction on homes they own in the District. 

In order to qualify for the Homestead deduction, the owner of the house must live in the District and occupy the house. The owner must also pay their income taxes in the District and register any cars they own with the District. 

In the clip above from the Georgetown Patch, Kenneth Ellerbe answers questions from Segraves about the tax credit and the controversy a year ago over the chief going on leave without pay from DC when he took the Florida job. Here’s what Shaun Courtney wrote for the Patch

The biggest challenge to the proposed appointees may come for Ellerbe, who faced tough questioning during a press conference Thursday for his 2009 attempt to maintain his position in the D.C. Fire and EMS while working in FL so he could collect a pension from the District. Ellerbe said he resigned from his position in the District and has not collected any pension benefits. Gray said Ellerbe “operated with integrity” during the review of the Personnel Exchange Agreement that allowed him to serve in FL and still be eligible for a D.C. pension. 

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