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Newton

Fired police chief could receive large pension

Matthew Cummings, who last month became the first police chief fired in Newton’s history, could qualify for an annual government pension of as much as $129,000, topping all other retired workers in the city’s system.

Cummings, who lost his job over what the city described as unbecoming behavior, applied last week for his retirement, effective on Oct. 24, said Kelly Byrne, director of the Newton Contributory Retirement System. After getting the required state approvals, Cummings could receive his first check at the end of this month, Byrne said.

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However, Cummings still plans to appeal his termination, said his attorney, Timothy Burke. If Cummings wins the appeal and is rehired by Newton, he has up to a year after his retirement request to give the money back, Burke said.

“It changes nothing,” Burke said. “We have no other plans than to contest the termination.”

The former police chief’s decision to file for retirement ensures that he has an income while he waits for an arbitration hearing on his appeal, Burke said.

With more than three decades in the city’s Police Department, Cummings is qualified for the maximum pension: 80 percent of the average of his average three highest years of pay. Cummings had been police chief since 2009, and earned $168,737 last year.

More than 1,300 people receive pensions under Newton’s retirement system, including city and some school employees, such as teacher’s aides, custodians and cafeteria workers. Teachers, principals and other administrators are in the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System.

Cummings was fired on Oct. 11 after a dismissal hearing into complaints about inappropriate comments that he allegedly made to three women in his department, including his former secretary. A city-requested investigation conducted over the summer concluded that Cummings made “boorish” remarks, including telling his secretary she looked like a “whore,” and commenting on the weight that a pregnant officer had gained. In an attempt to be funny, according to the report, Cummings also kicked the shoe off his secretary’s foot and caused her a minor injury.

While Newton officials found the behavior to be egregious enough to fire Cummings, it doesn’t reach the bar for losing a pension.

Under Massachusetts law, employees forfeit their retirement benefits only if they are convicted of crimes that involve their duties as public workers. Cummings has not been charged with any crime.

“This doesn’t fit any rubric for the taking away of his retirement,” said Donnalyn Kahn, Newton’s city solicitor.

The city has no plans to contest Cummings’ retirement or his pension, Kahn said.

With an annual pension of $129,000, Cummings would join four other Newton retirees receiving a six-figure income. Police and fire employees were among the top pension earners in Newton, according to data from last year.

Former police chief John O’Brien collected $110,876 in 2011, while his predecessor, Frank Gorgone, received a pension of $109,058. Edward Murphy, Newton’s former fire chief who retired in 2003, followed close behind with an annual pension of $108,373.

The average pension in Newton, however, was $24,563, last year.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.
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