Taxpayers probably came out about as well as they could on the transition in Lexington fire chiefs.
The city avoided paying a cash settlement to former chief Robert Hendricks, agreeing instead to reinstate him to active duty with one year of seniority at a salary of $36,312.
Mayor Jim Gray was able to make interim chief Keith Jackson's appointment permanent. Under Jackson's interim management, the department has nearly erased its overtime spending, which reached a budget-busting $3.25 million under Hendricks in 2009.
As a new mayor facing a morale crisis among firefighters and a bleak city budget, Gray asked Hendricks to resign in February 2011, only to stumble on the special protections that state law affords fire chiefs.
Hendricks refused to resign and then, citing psychological issues, filed for, but was denied, a medical disability pension. Hendricks was already drawing a Lexington firefighter's pension after retiring as a district major in 1997.
He was Georgetown's fire chief until Mayor Teresa Isaac brought him back to Lexington in 2003. He was paid $148,379 as chief and was on paid leave from February until September 2011 when he went on unpaid leave.
In March, he filed a complaint against the city under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In the announcement of his reinstatement, a spokeswoman for the mayor said the city was required to comply with complex federal and state employment law as it dealt with Hendricks over the past 16 months and had acted on the advice of its lawyers.
Translation: This is the best we can do without risking a protracted fight and possibly a more expensive outcome.
Doctors have cleared Hendricks. 57, for firefighter and paramedic duty, according to the city news release.
His successor, Jackson, a career firefighter and paramedic, honed his leadership skills in the Army Reserves where he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. The 21-year veteran of the Lexington department, is the city's first black chief.
Jackson will need to call on all his experience and abilities as he wrestles with tough questions facing his department and all local governments: How to balance public safety needs with what the city can afford and taxpayers are willing to pay, while looking out for the firefighters and paramedics who put themselves in harm's way to protect the public?
It's a tall order; we wish him well.