City appealing Hotshot firefighter benefits ruling

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) -- Prescott is appealing a retirement board's decision to grant benefits to one of the 19 Hotshots killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday to appeal the Prescott Public Safety Retirement Board's May decision to grant public-safety survivor benefits to the family of Andrew Ashcraft. The appeal will be heard in Yavapai County Superior Court.

The vote took place a day after Prescott held a memorial on the anniversary of the June 30, 2013, death of Ashcraft and 18 other members of the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots.

They died when the wildfire swept over their position in a brush-choked canyon.

Ashcraft was among 13 Hotshots killed who were not classified as permanent employees.

Widow Juliann Ashcraft expressed disappointment with the council's decision. But she said she is confident that her benefits applications would ultimately be granted.

"The facts will speak for themselves," she said. "We'll do what we have to do. It will just take a little longer than we hoped."

In a related but separate proceeding, Juliann Ashcraft last week filed a lawsuit claiming her husband was eligible for participation in the public safety retirement system, 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.

Councilwoman Jean Wilcox previously opposed appealing the board's decision, but she said her opinion changed after reading the transcript and reviewing exhibits.

"We, as a council and the local pension board, cannot make all of these legal interpretations for an unprecedented case," she said. "I think a court of law needs to instruct us and help us on future decisions on how to classify firefighters."

The board's five members include two fire department employees, and council members questioned whether members had conflicts of interest.

"We need to send this off to an impartial party," Councilman Chris Kuknyo said,

Ashcraft family attorney Pat McGroder had urged the city not to appeal the decision.

McGroder also disputed the assertion that an impartial review is needed, saying the fire board "afforded the city and the Ashcrafts all the due process that one could ask for."

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Prescott Council appeals fallen hotshot's benefits decision