Lyn Jennings, a candidate for Ward 8, isn’t happy a Department of Public Works (DPW) employee got his job back last week after he was terminated for allegedly stealing an estimated $2,000 worth of equipment and materials from the department last year.
Ken Naylor, 48, of West Warwick, returned to work a week ago today, however, there is a possibility he could be fired based on the outcome of police charges relating to the alleged theft.
The union objected to Naylor’s dismissal on grounds that the city, Naylor and the union reached an agreement that he would be suspended without pay for 20 days. Naylor said he was “borrowing” the equipment as policy allowed, although he did not notify his supervisor. An arbitrator agreed that there was an agreement on punishment – the suspension – and ruled that Naylor get back his job and be granted nine months of back pay.
According to chief of staff Mark Carruolo, Mayor Scott Avedisian hadn’t decided as of yesterday whether the city would appeal the arbitration. Also, the city has not calculated what Naylor would be paid.
Carruolo said Naylor was collecting temporary disability insurance and because of this, the city needs to check with TDI to see what amount should properly be deducted, as well as other possible deductions.
“We’re waiting for him to provide us with information,” said Carruolo.
Still, Jennings finds it disturbing that someone who has been charged with stealing from the city could be eligible for a pension.
“Ward 8 taxpayers are left with a hefty tab after a DPW worker, terminated for allegedly stealing public property, has won his job back following an appeal through Council 94,” she said in a press release issued last week.
In the release, Jennings points the finger at the six council members, who in December voted against an amendment to an existing ordinance that would have given the court the power to revoke a pension or health benefits from a city worker for dishonorable service.
The council members include Council President Bruce Place, Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono, Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Ward 5 Councilman John DelGiudice, Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis and Ward 8 Councilman Ray Gallucci.
“Their actions represent a total and complete disregard for taxpayers in Ward 8 and throughout our city,” Jennings said in the release. “Warwick needs council people with common sense and a dedication to fairness. Remember this when you vote on November 6. I will reintroduce this ‘dishonorable service’ resolution as your Ward 8 councilwoman.”
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon introduced an amendment to the current ordinance, which was originally drafted by former Ward 7 Councilman Al Gemma, who is seeking re-election. Solomon said he is confident the issue will be revisited in the “very near future,” and his goal is to simply enhance the existing statute.
“Similar statutes existed in other municipalities that when people were convicted of a crime or charged with a crime, there were loopholes in the statute that allows them to continue to receive or be entitled to their pension and that’s what precipitated my amendment to the existing ordinance,” Solomon said in a phone interview yesterday morning. “I wanted to eliminate any loopholes that may give a free pass for someone who has not completed their public task in an honorable manner. Unfortunately, that was voted down.”
During a phone interview yesterday morning, Vella-Wilkinson said while she supports the ordinance as it was originally written, she voted against Solomon’s amendment because she feels there are potential honest employees that could be stripped of their pensions.
“I’m not against the administration of progressive discipline within the personnel guidelines, however, I don’t feel that someone who has worked their entire life should take the chance of losing their pension based on the preponderance of evidence as opposed to the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. “The reason I prefer the higher standard is because you can have cases of mismanagement or a personality conflict. You have a manager who nickel and dimes an employee and the next thing you know, they have five minor infractions against them and they could potentially lose their pension. I am against that.”
Gallucci added that the amendment “had nothing to do with the Ken Naylor incident. It has to do with pensions,” while DelGiudice said he voted against it because it would have “removed someone’s right to due process, therefore, it would not hold up in a court of law.”
Place said Jennings is “misinformed.” Like Gallucci, he said the ordinance does not involve Naylor.
“I don’t think she fully understands what Councilman Solomon’s proposed ordinance addressed,” he said yesterday during a phone interview. “It specifically addressed the retirement and pensions, but it had nothing to do with the Naylor case. The Naylor case is a situation with regard to current employment, not retirements. One has nothing to do with the other.”
Colantuono and Travis were also contacted for comment but did not reply in time for press.
Last week, Avedisian noted that he is “tremendously disappointed” with the arbitration’s decision. As a result, he said he plans to make a “number of changes to the city’s personnel policies and procedures to ensure consistent and appropriate disciplinary actions in the future.”
In the past, acting DPW Director David Picozzi allowed employees to borrow equipment with permission under a policy that Avedisian has now discontinued.
However, that was not the deal with Naylor and an agreement was reached with the union to suspend him for 20 days without pay. Then, he was terminated, which is why the arbitrator ruled it a case of double jeopardy.
At the moment, Carruolo said the mayor is working on policy changes as far as progressive disciplinary action.
“The concern in this particular instance is that the mayor was not aware of the discipline that was discharged on this employee until after the fact,” Carruolo said. “That upset him and he’s trying to resolve that. As far as disciplinary action for employees, the mayor wants to be made aware of those before they are executed. That was one of the problems here.”