Boston’s chief city planner, under pressure to resign, is asking to be fired so he can take advantage of a little-used benefit that could double his pension, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the situation.
Planner Kairos Shen has had enormous influence in reshaping Boston since joining the city in 1993. Now, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration wants new leadership as the city embarks on a comprehensive planning effort geared toward 2030, according to the officials, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the issue.
But Shen refuses to go quietly, the officials said. Instead, he wants to be relieved of his duties, they said, which would give him the benefit of a law designed to protect employees from politically motivated firings when newly elected officials take office.
Longtime employees like Shen can apply for higher pensions if they can prove their terminations were not the result of questionable behavior.
But the provision was exploited by officials who were purposely fired to augment their pensions. Former governor Deval Patrick and the Legislature enacted reforms that eliminated the perk for new hires starting in 2012, but existing employees remain eligible for the benefit.
As Boston’s top planner since 2002, appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Shen has presided over the city’s largest building boom in a generation.
Reached by phone Friday, Shen declined to comment and referred questions to his employer, the Boston Redevelopment Authority. An authority spokesman declined to discuss the issue.
According to data obtained under the state’s open records law, if Shen is fired, he would receive $71,000 a year for the rest of his life. Without the termination benefit, his annual pension would be about $35,000 if he resigned. In 2014, Shen was paid $170,000, according to payroll records.
Shen would need to apply for the benefit, which must be approved by the Boston Retirement Board and the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission. Retirement officials described the larger payments not as a bonus but as a benefit for longtime workers whose pensions would have grown if their employment had continued.
Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said in an interview that under the law, Shen was entitled to a larger pension.
“This explains why the reform is in place now,” said Tyler, who also added, “But it is not as if he is voluntarily leaving. That certainly must factor into [Shen’s] consideration.”
Tyler described himself as a “fan of Kairos” because of what he has been able to accomplish. “I’ve been impressed by his professionalism and his knowledge,” Tyler said.
Shen’s biography on the redevelopment authority’s website notes that he has overseen development guidelines for the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, the refurbishment of Fenway Park, the relocation of the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the creation of the 1,000-acre Innovation District on the South Boston waterfront. He holds a master’s degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has a reputation as a skilled but polarizing figure.
The officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that Shen’s intelligence and knowledge of the city’s neighborhoods were considerable. One of the officials said Shen often made assumptions about what Walsh wanted based on the predilections of his predecessor.
The Walsh administration plans to release another audit of the redevelopment authority, and one of the officials with direct knowledge of the agency said the audit found issues needing to be fixed in the city’s planning department. Walsh promised in his campaign to increase transparency of the city development process.
The perk that allows fired employees to augment their pensions has made headlines before. The Globe reported in 2007 that former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi’s executive secretary, Donna Sweeney, was fired less than two weeks after she qualified for the benefit. Sweeney’s annual pension quadrupled to $20,000.
The state’s Big Dig project director, Michael P. Lewis, was fired in 2007 by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. As a result, Lewis more than tripled his state pension, from $23,000 to $72,578 a year, the Globe reported. At age 46, Lewis received the first of the Massachusetts pension checks he will receive for the rest of his life, just as he began a $130,000-a-year job as Rhode Island’s transportation secretary.