Prescott City Council votes to appeal hotshot, Andrew Ashcraft's, retirement benefits

PRESCOTT, AZ - Juliann Ashcraft has spent the past year fighting for benefits she says her husband earned while he was alive.

Tuesday the Prescott City Council voted to try to take those benefits away.

In May the City of Prescott Retirement Board voted to grant full retirement benefits to Ashcraft's family. 

Andrew Ashcraft was considered a seasonal employee when he died in the Yarnell Hill Fire, but that independent board ruled he deserved the same pension benefits the hotshot crew's permanent employees got.

On Tuesday, in a 4-2 vote, the city council decided to appeal that decision.

The city has to file their appeal with the Yavapai County Superior Court. 

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."

Count on ABC15 to stay on top of this developing story.

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