Panel votes no confidence in school finance director

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The Warwick City Council intergovernmental committee has approved a resolution for a vote of no confidence in Warwick Public Schools finance director Anthony Ferrucci, citing specific instances of what they deem to be fiscal mismanagement and doubts regarding the credibility of his budgetary reporting.

“Not only do I want the school committee and us to work together, I want us to be able to trust each other,” said Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi, who brought forth the resolution. “And we can't trust each other if the main intermediary providing the numbers, which both of us have to trust, is Mr. Ferrucci. I want to give the school committee the ammunition they need to help remove Mr. Ferrucci. And I believe this no confidence vote gives them that ammunition, if they didn't have enough already.”

The resolution was unable to proceed to the full council for a vote because the Monday night hearing had dragged into the midnight hour – a byproduct of the body’s finance committee proceeding for more than five hours as hundreds of students packed the chamber protesting funding levels provided to the school department – and under open meetings law, the council had to adjourn shortly after it was approved at the committee level.

The complicated historical context and well-documented, ongoing financial struggles of the school department that contributed to the chaotic environment of Monday night’s meeting ultimately became a backdrop for council members to unload their frustrations regarding Ferrucci’s role as the school’s chief budget officer.

Claims of inconsistent fiscal data

Finance committee chair and Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, who supported the resolution of no confidence, expressed his frustration that high budgetary asks from the school department always seemed to result in unexpected surpluses.

“It's particularly upsetting that, tonight, there's a lot of folks in this room that are angry at the city council because they don't have or have not received the big picture,” Ladouceur said. “Every year [that I’ve been on the city council] except one they have redone their fiscal analysis and come back to us and said, guess what we found? We have an extra million or more that we found in surplus.”

“Last year he came and said we need $8 million and not a penny less…Until mediation comes to an end and it turned out they didn't need a penny. They needed nothing,” said Sinapi, referencing a recent mediation award which ruled in favor of the city that they were not on the hook for additional funding to help close the school department’s roughly $4 million budget deficit.

Most recently, on Monday night the finance committee heard testimony from representatives of West Bay Community Health while deliberating who should get the bid for the city’s health insurance needs. City Council President Merolla asked if the school department, who is insured under West Bay, was truly projecting a 21 percent increase in their insurance costs, as had been presented during budget hearings last week.

Alan Lord, executive director for West Bay Community Health, said that the increase they projected for the schools was closer to 14.49 percent, which Merolla said would amount to about a $1 million difference in assumed costs for medical insurance.

Mediation discoveries

Another large contributor to the vote of no confidence is the finding during recent mediation that Ferrucci had contributed about $4.1 million since 2014 over the high-end contribution to the schools’ private pension fund as was recommended by the school’s actuary – an amount known as the annual recommended contribution, or ARC.

Ferrucci has defended his funding of the pension in subsequent interviews, and the pension fund was praised by the state Treasurer’s office as one of the best-funded pensions in Rhode Island. However, council members have utilized these contributions as a troubling misplacing of priorities among the school department’s crucial needs in other areas.

“I don't think that's something to be proud of,” Ladouceur said. “To knowingly and willfully over-fund that pension at your own discretion without an actuary or any advisory body from the outside telling you to do so, I think is self-serving.”

“He also took pride in his overfunding of the pension rather than admit error, and he also contended it was simply something that was always done since prior to him getting here, so it was okay that he did it,” Sinapi said. “I don't know about you, but that's not how I do my job. I don't think that's how any of us do our jobs. I know Councilman Ladouceur does finance committee very differently, and I don't see why Mr. Ferrucci does his job as a finance officer any differently.”

The council was also critical of another finding via mediation where Kyle Connors, director of assurance for CPA firm Marcum LLP, performed a fiscal analysis of the school department budget and reported that they could see as much as a $3.5 million surplus by the end of the year. Ferrucci has since disputed those numbers, and school representatives who were party to the mediation claim that the actual surplus was closer to $600,000 – which they incorporated into their final ask, taking the deficit down from $4.6 million closer to $4 million.

But that financial disagreement is simply one of many, Sinapi contended. He took note to relieve the school committee of some responsibility, saying they had to trust the numbers provided to them by their financial officer.

“If I'm the school committee, I'm going to believe my budget guy is telling me the truth. I have no reason to think otherwise, but it turns out consistently that Mr. Ferrucci was not telling the truth,” Sinapi said. “The problem is that Ferrucci is, at this point in my observation, wrong more than he is right, which is incredibly concerning.”

Other issues

Sinapi cited the school department cutting janitors, resulting in unemployment payments born by the department and some schools only being cleaned every other day, which he claims resulted in a slew of sicknesses among students and teachers, as well as denying a donation from a local business to support school lunch debt within the district – which resulted in national media attention – as other factors contributing to the vote of no confidence.

Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix went back to 2017, when alarm systems at Holliman and Norwood Elementary schools either faltered (in the former case) or outright failed (in the latter case). He said he was dissatisfied with Ferrucci’s handling of the situation, claiming that he did not handle the matter with enough urgency or transparency.

“If I were in the administration of Warwick Public Schools, on hearing about something like this I would immediately want to take action to make sure all the teachers, at a minimum, are informed,” he said. “Public safety is paramount, and it seems to me that Mr. Ferrucci did not take public safety seriously.”

Mayor Joseph Solomon, in an interview on Wednesday, stayed on the sidelines regarding the no confidence vote, taking a more optimistic outlook.

“I didn’t ask anyone to docket that. That’s the legislative branch,” he said. “In that area I just try to remain optimistic and address things hopefully in a positive manner as we go forward, whether it be Mr. Ferrucci or Dr. Thornton or the School Committee Chairperson. I’m not going to throw any idle threats. I’m not going to say I’m cutting this, this or this. I don’t think that benefits anybody. I think we all want what’s best for the students, the teachers, the staff and the community overall.”

Regardless of whether one side is right or if the truth lies somewhere in the middle, the seeds of distrust – at least between some members of the city council and the school department – have firmly taken root.

“It's always the same thing. Ferrucci didn't do anything wrong, according to Ferrucci. Ferrucci is perfect. Everyone else is wrong,” Sinapi said. “Ferrucci takes pride in what he does and how he does it no matter how wrong he consistently is and no matter how much it hurts the schools and the city. He needs to go, and it's long overdue.”

Superintendent Philip Thornton did not agree with the resolution.

“Mr. Ferrucci has worked for many years at Warwick Public Schools and he has been part of many positive efforts in his time here,” he said during a phone interview Wednesday. School committee chairwoman Karen Bachus declined to comment on the resolution.

Ferrucci is out of the country until next week on vacation and could not respond to this story.

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Thecaptain

A no confidence vote put forth by the council is probably the most hypocritical thing I have seen to date. The council constantly admonishes the school side and they completely ignore their own gross failures as a governing body. The Warwick City Council has been a historical failure to the residents as the vast majority of members were bought and paid for by Avedisian. I am tired of hearing quotes like "we are a part time legislative body", "we didnt know the gravity of the situation", and "we're damned if we do and damned if we dont. Its one excuse after the next pointing the finger in an attempt to remove and hide their own gross negligence.

To date all we hear is banter and not one sentence of a proposed solution to the massive fiscal problems in this city. Lets face it, if Joe had any solutions in the past 20 years, wouldn't he have at least proposed them? Receivership is the only way out of this mess, but none of these elected officials want to do that as they are all beneficiaries of the unsustainable benefit packages.

Its just too bad that only 4 people in the community were constantly blaring out the warning.

Thursday, June 6
he without sin cast this first stone

5 key accusations from Councilman Sinapi’s no confident resolution directed at the school finance director:

1, misled

2. Incorrect information

3 cannot be trusted

4. must be able to trust

5. In the best interest of the students

Councilman, are you committed to holding administration officials and political leaders on the city side to these same standards in your resolution?

Let’s examine if these facts raise to the level of the Councilman’s definition that warrant no-confidence.

Misled – last year the city council budgeted $5 million in the asphalt budget and the mayor promised to spend it all on road repairs. Only $2 million was spent and the remaining $3 million is being used as a slush fund to plug city overspending.

Must be able to trust –a week ago the council budgets another $4 million for asphalt budget.

Cannot be trusted – the administration and the city council do not know how much money is in the surplus account yet they approve a budget that taps it for another $2.5 million since they couldn’t pass a balanced budget

Cannot be trusted – City establishes a policy over the last 15 years of not funding theoretical raises for teachers, yet last week they budget $1 million for theoretical firefighter raises.

Incorrect information – state mandated year end financial reports are not filed on time by the city finance director that are used to assist in setting the new budget and no one on the council says a word.

Misled – budgetary transfer resolutions typically proposed as part of the annual budget process to the city council by the mayor to show how much money is being moved to and from line city items are not filed and no one on the city council says a word.

In the best interest of the students:

1. In the last 10 years $36.8 million in new property tax dollars was allocated to the city budget. $14,000 was budgeted to the schools

2. City strips $6 million from the school department budget 10 years ago and takes all the money to balance their budget.

3. city stops paying for bond money approved by voters in 2006 to fix failing school building and makes schools pay the principal and interest before they will release the money. No other school department in the state has to pay this cost.

4. City finally decides that they will start to pay principal and interest and hails it as a major contribution to the schools operating budget.

and on and on with the hypercritical figure pointing comments by city leaders

Thursday, June 6
disappointed

Mr. Sinapi...what a misguided resolution. You have done nothing to distinguish yourself on the council but yet you demean the school dept. finance director. We all know you have a vendetta against him.

Should we have a vote of no confidence against the council because they voted for a new budget without having the money transfers between depts. for last yr. You should be ashamed of your self.

Your questions at budget hearings were juvenile.

Grow up Sinapi or resign. Do the city a favor.

Thursday, June 6
Reject lawyer

ORDER

JOHN J. McCONNELL, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Anthony E. Sinapi applied to take the bar examinations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts after his graduation from Roger Williams University School of Law. Mr. Sinapi applied for testing accommodations due to his disability in the form of 50% extra time, a distraction reduced environment, and permission to take prescribed medication in both states. Massachusetts initially denied Mr. Sinapi's request, but granted it upon receipt of additional documents and reconsideration. Rhode Island denied his request. Mr. Sinapi requested reconsideration from the Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners ("the Board") as well, offering to provide the same documents that appeared to convince Massachusetts of the merits of his accommodations bid. The Board declined, even when Mr. Sinapi's counsel reduced the time request to an additional 25%. He turned to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, filing an Emergency Petition for Review, but that court declined relief.

Feeling that he had no other route to pursue in light of the looming examination date, Mr. Sinapi filed this action for injunctive relief and damages, pursuant to the Americans With Disabilities Act ("the ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Rhode Island Constitution against the Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners ("the Board") and the Board's individual members in their official and individual capacities. He sought a temporary restraining order ("TRO") so that he could sit for the July 2015 bar examination in Rhode Island with the 25% additional time and other accommodations. (ECF No. 2). Defendants objected that this Court lacked jurisdiction and/or that they were entitled to absolute immunity from all claims.1 (ECF No. 3). After a hearing, this Court granted the TRO on the ground that the Board's failure to give weight to the Massachusetts Board's decision to give Mr. Sinapi an accommodation appeared to violate Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") regulations.2 (ECF No. 6). Mr. Sinapi took his exams under the terms he sought in his motion. He passed Massachusetts, but failed the Rhode Island test.

Mr. Sinapi amended his complaint, adding a claim for violation of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act ("RICRA"). Believing there was now an absence of case or controversy, because Mr. Sinapi received his requested relief of the test accommodations, the Court issued a show cause order as to why the case should not be dismissed, which order resulted in the motion to dismiss currently before the Court. Although he did not remove it from his Amended Complaint, Mr. Sinapi appears to have abandoned his claim for injunctive relief in light of the Court's decision to grant his temporary restraining order. Therefore, the Court is only presented with the issue of Defendants' immunity from his compensatory and punitive damages claims. See Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967).

I. ANALYSIS

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court "must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom." Ruiz v. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp., 496 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2007). "To avoid dismissal, a complaint must provide `a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Garcia-Catalan v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 102 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).

After a review of the extensive briefing in this case, the Court finds that principles of immunity bar all of Mr. Sinapi's claims for compensatory relief against the Board and all Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. As to the claims against the Board and the members in their official capacities, the Court lacks jurisdiction under the Eleventh Amendment. Quasi-judicial immunity provides protection to the Board members for all claims against them in their individual capacities.

A. ELEVENTH AMENDMENT

The Eleventh Amendment bars suits in federal court against a state by citizens of that state or a foreign state. Metcalf & Eddy v. P.R. Aqueduct & Sewer Auth., 991 F.2d 935, 938 (1st Cir. 1993). This sovereign immunity "extends to governmental instrumentalities, which are an arm or `alter ego' of the State." Gonzalez-Droz v. Gonzalez-Colon, 717 F.Supp.2d 196, 207 (D.P.R. 2010); see Pennhurst State Sch. Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984); Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280-281 (1977); Ainsworth Aristocrat Int'l Pty. Ltd. v. Tourism Co. of P.R., 818 F.2d 1034, 1036 (1st Cir. 1987); Ochoa Realty Corp. v. Faria, 618 F.Supp. 434, 435 (D.P.R. 1985); Ursulich v. P.R. Nat'l Guard, 384 F.Supp. 736, 737-38 (D.P.R. 1974). "The rationale behind this extension of the Eleventh Amendment protection is that a claim against a state official in his or her official capacity, for monetary relief, is an action for the recovery of money from the State." Gonzalez-Droz, 717 F. Supp. 2d at 207. Therefore, the Eleventh Amendment provides protection from suit for state officials acting in their official capacities for monetary relief.

The key consideration in determining whether the Eleventh Amendment immunity applies to an arm of the state is whether the state is the real party in interest in the suit and the monetary judgment will be paid out of the state coffers. Metcalf & Eddy, 991 F.2d at 939. The Rhode Island Supreme Court is an arm of the State of Rhode Island and the Board is an administrative arm of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. In re DeOrsey, 312 A.2d 720, 724 (R.I. 1973). In fact, Board members are appointed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court. See R.I. Supreme Court Art. II, Rule 5. Therefore, any money judgment against the Board itself, and its members sued in their official capacities would be paid out of State of Rhode Island coffers. As such, the Board and its members sued in their official capacities are protected from suit by the Eleventh Amendment and all of Mr. Sinapi's claims against all Defendants in that capacity are dismissed. Gonzalez-Droz, 717 F. Supp. 2d at 207.

With the official capacity claims against the individuals and all claims against the Board dispensed through sovereign immunity, all that remains are the claims against the Board members as individuals. They argue that there are other aspects of immunity that apply to those claims. The Court will examine those other categories of immunity, starting with quasi-judicial immunity, to determine whether any apply here.

B. QUASI-JUDICIAL IMMUNITY

It is well settled that judges are immune from "liability for damages for acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction." Pierson, 386 U.S. at 554. Rooted in this concept of judicial immunity, quasi-judicial immunity is available to certain officials who perform acts that are judicial in nature. Bettencourt v. Bd. of Registration in Med. of Mass., 904 F.2d 772, 782 (1st Cir. 1990). Therefore, in Mr. Sinapi's case, the Court must determine if, "while executing the activities which gave rise to this claim," Defendants, as members of the Board, "were acting in an adjudicatory capacity such that [they] are entitled to absolute immunity." Destek Group, Inc. v. State of N.H. Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 318 F.3d 32, 41 (1st Cir. 2003).

The First Circuit Court of Appeals in Bettencourt explored this type of immunity as it applied to a board of individuals whose primary responsibility is to regulate the practice of medicine in Massachusetts. That Court identified three questions that need to be answered in analyzing a board's role as an adjudicator — the more analogous a board member's role is to a judicial one, the more likely the member is entitled to absolute immunity. Bettencourt, 904 F.2d at 782-783.

First, does a Board member, like a judge, perform a traditional `adjudicatory' function, in that he decides facts, applies law, and otherwise resolves disputes on the merits (free from direct political influence)? Second, does a Board member, like a judge, decide cases sufficiently controversial that, in the absence of absolute immunity, he would be subject to numerous damages actions? Third, does a Board member, like a judge, adjudicate disputes against a backdrop of multiple safeguards designed to protect a [board-regulated professional]'s constitutional rights?

Id. at 783. Because the Court answers each of these questions in the affirmative, the Board members are individually immune from suit.

The Board members served an adjudicatory function when they considered Mr. Sinapi's application and request for additional time and a distraction-free environment in light of the applicable rules that govern the Board's actions. See Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 512-13 (1978); Coggeshall v. Mass. Bd. of Regist. of Psychologists, 604 F.3d 658, 663 (1st Cir. 2010) (members of a professional regulatory board function like judges and have quasi-judicial immunity because they weigh evidence, make factual findings, reach legal determinations, choose sanctions, expound reasons for their decisions, and are likely to provoke litigious responses from affected persons); Diva's Inc. v. City of Bangor, 411 F.3d 30, 41 (1st Cir. 2005); Wang v. N.H. Bd. of Regist. in Med., 55 F.3d 698, 701 (1st Cir. 1995) ("State officials performing prosecutorial functions — including their decisions to initiate administrative proceedings aimed at legal sanctions — are entitled to absolute immunity[.]"); Johnson v. Rhode Island Parole Board, 815 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1987); Horwitz v. Bd. of Medical Examiners, 822 F.2d 1508, 1515 (10th Cir. 1987); Watts v. Burkhart, 978 F.2d 269, 272-73 (6th Cir. 1992); Gonzalez-Droz, 717 F. Supp. 2d at 208-12; Guzman-Rivera v. Lucena-Zabala, Civil No. 08-1897, 2009 WL 1940477, at *7 (D.P.R. July 1, 2009); Velazquez Feliciano v. Tribunal Supremo De Puerto Rico, 78 F.Supp.2d 4, 12 (D.P.R. 1999). Moreover, as an arm of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, it is pellucid that the Board's job was to perform their delegated judicial functions. In re DeOrsey, 312 A.2d at 724.

Moving to the second inquiry, the Court finds that the Board's decision to deny Mr. Sinapi's accommodation request is sufficiently controversial. The mere fact that Mr. Sinapi filed this litigation against the Board itself and its members not only in their official capacities, but also as individuals, proves that "[t]he intense nature of administering the bar examination and the likelihood of harassing litigation [] supports granting the [Board] members absolute immunity as to actions involving judge-like discretion." Powell v. Nigro, 601 F.Supp. 144, 149 (D.D.C. 1985).

Finally, the Board points out the availability of safeguards to protect an applicant's constitutional rights such as a denial in writing and an appeal process to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. See R.I. Supreme Court Art. II, Rule 6; Diva's Inc., 411 F.3d at 41. Mr. Sinapi has had "the opportunity to point out the inaccuracies in the bar admissions3 without the need to bring a civil damage suit against the individual Committee members." Powell, 601 F. Supp. at 149. Because the Board members' acts at issue here were unequivocally judicial, they are entitled to absolute immunity from Mr. Sinapi's damages claims against them individually.

II. CONCLUSION

Mr. Sinapi has failed to show cause as to why his case should not be dismissed. His claims for money damages against the Board and its members in their official capacities are dismissed because this Court lacks jurisdiction under the Eleventh Amendment. His claims against the Board members individually are precluded by quasi-judicial immunity. The Board's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 35) is GRANTED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

FootNotes

1. Defendants appealed this Court's decision to grant the TRO to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The First Circuit, however, dismissed the appeal as moot because the order had been "irrevocably executed" because Mr. Sinapi took the exam under the accommodating conditions. (ECF No. 17).

2. Moreover, the Court found it significant that the Board's refusal to accommodate Mr. Sinapi would "functionally deny him the Massachusetts's accommodation on the multistate portion" as it applied to his Massachusetts score because he was taking the multistate exam in Rhode Island without the accommodation. (ECF No. 6 at 2-3 n.1).

3. Furthermore, even if Mr. Sinapi is correct that the Board's process was deficient, the Board still has absolute quasi-judicial immunity. Whether the Board's actions rooted in Mr. Sinapi's request were erroneous is irrelevant as long as they were judicial in nature. See Gonzalez-Droz, 717 F. Supp. 2d at 208-12; Cintron Rodriguez v. Pagan Nieves, 736 F.Supp. 411, 413 (D.P.R. 1990) ("procedural errors, even grave ones, do not divest a judge [or an official acting in a similar capacity] of judicial immunity.").

Thursday, June 6
PaulHuff

After reading this thread Mr. Sinapi is the one I have no confidence in.

But the people get the government they deserve. We allowed these stooges to get elected so it’s our own fault.

Thursday, June 6
had enough

As a resident of the City of Warwick for 45 years, I feel it is necessary to make clear of my complete contempt for everyone in a leadership position. I have lived in Warwick most of my life, I am a graduate of Toll Gate High School, purchased a home in Warwick after college, have two children in the school system and used to recommended Warwick to anybody I knew looking for a new home. No city is perfect and surely, Warwick has many of the same problems that plague most cities and towns, but in the past the many benefits Warwick had to offer far outweighed the negatives. However, in recent years the tides have turned, I view Warwick in a far more negative light, to the point I would never encourage anyone to move here, and have begun my own exit strategy. Moreover, the sole source of this change is a complete and total failure of our elected “leadership”, leadership is in quotes because they, yourself included have shown none of it. When you first ran for office, you stood on my front porch and told my wife and me that you were going to change the way things in the City are done. We listened to you that day and thought you were what the City needs.

Which brings me to the reason I felt the need to write you.

I will start by stating that I have two children in the schools and my wife is a substitute teacher. Therefore, it will surprise you to know that I supported the efforts to reign in the reckless nature of the school departments spending. I acknowledged the need for consolidations due to declining enrollment, and controlling the bloated spending by the administration. I have defended level funding of the schools as means to force them to make the hard decisions. And I feel they have. However, I believe you have gone too far. It has been eight years. Nobody can be expected to maintain level expenditures for that long, lord knows the City has not.

So now, it is your turn.

I have watched as the schools have been level funded for years, but the Council continues to raise taxes near the maximum allowed by law. I am left to assume that all additional tax revenues over the last several years have gone to city spending. So please explain to me the need for all these tax increases to fund only the city spending. Are there new neighborhoods for the police to patrol, new fire stations to be maned, new streets to be plowed and garbage collected? You know as well as I do the answer to all of these questions is NO. There have been no new services instituted over the last eight years. Was it used to fix infrastructure, public parks, library upgrades, senior services, beach cleanup? Anybody who has spent ten minutes driving thru Warwick knows the answer to all of these is NO. In fact, all public spaces have deteriorated over the last eight years.

To recap your accomplishments over the last eight years, maximum tax increases without improvements to infrastructure and no new services. So, where is all the money going, and why do you feel deserving of additional tax increases.

As a resident of this City for 45 years, I can unequivocally say that everything about this city is worse today than when all of our elected officials took office. A truly damming indictment of each and every one of you.

So please explain to me how you can sit there and lecture the schools on spending when you are a bigger contributor the downfall of the city financially, than the school department ever was. For eight years, the amount I pay in taxes to the schools has not changed. I would not be writing this letter if you could say the same for the city. Financial mismanagement and all, at least the schools can point to the thousands of students they educate each year. What do you have to show for the extra money I pay you?

I await your defense of the actions you have taken.

Friday, June 7
Dave Testa

Had enough, I agree with your sentiments 100%. This action, in my view, is cheap, political grandstanding led by a member who has been on the Council for all of five minutes. This whole charade is nothing more than a small part of a larger diversion to mask the fact that the schools have been level funded over the last several years and virtually every extra tax dollar we've paid has not gone to the school side of the ledger. Facts are stubborn things, right? Perhaps the most ludicrous statement made was "I want to give the school committee the ammunition they need to help remove Mr. Ferrucci." Really? Then perhaps the good Councilman should have run for School Committee instead of Council, though it seems that over the past couple of weeks, Warwick's School Committee has grown from five members to nearly fourteen. Further, Councilman ascribes comments to Mr. Ferrucci from last year's hearings that Mr. Ferrucci never made. The Finance Chair, who'd love nothing more than to have an appointed School committee and whose dogged commitment to due diligence didn't uncover the fact that two firefighter contracts did not contain the City's 2011 pension language that the Council insisted be part of all municipal contracts, blasts the efforts that resulted in the best funded pension in the city. Well, they are, after all, a part time council. Even though the city's auditors received highly detailed (and audited) pension contribution data every year from the school dept. But perhaps the most ridiculous charge came from Councilman Rix when he attempted to tie Mr. Ferrucci job performance to the Holliman and Norwood fire alarm issues from 2017! During the time of that issue none of Mr. Rix's comments ever mentioned Mr. Ferrucci (rightly so) but suddenly now, he somehow had a hand in that? Sorry, as they say down South, 'that dog won't hunt'. The sad truth is that the schools, in response to their funding starvation and declining population, have had to cut their way to remaining solvent. The city, who has lost more people than the schools have, has seen it's budget double. Maybe the city could actually learn something from the schools when it comes to budgeting? I've lived here for 27 years and put kids through, and still have a child in, our schools and have witnessed this Wizard of Oz-like diversion virtually every year since my kids first started school in 2002. My kids have also witnessed and experienced what level funding has wrought too during their time in our schools.

Friday, June 7
Scal1024

Captain, your overall comments and tone toward Mayor Solomon have shifted and become much more negative as of late. As recently as a couple months ago it seemed like you were in the camp of "let's see what the Mayor does first before we tear him apart." Lately I've gotten the sense that you are no longer as confident or optimistic in Mayor Solomons ability to fix these problems as you once were. Which leads me to my question. What's changed, in your mind? Is it this years budget? Is it the Mayor's response to criticism where he deflects blame on Avedisian? Is it the fact that he hasn't shared one idea to fix the problems with rising legacy costs? Or all of the above? Clearly something has changed because now it doesn't seem like you're nearly as optimistic as you once were. Is it your opinion that Solomon will punt on fixing these problems? Politically he may feel like he can buy himself time with little bandaid fixes but in reality everyday that passes without a solution is one step closer for this city's finances to become insolvent.

I shared your hope and optimism in Mayor Solomon at one time. But...the way he's responded by leaking info on the fire contract before a deal was even reached, his response to the fire contract being rejected, telling the Beacon he's working to save school sports w/ the labor of Parks & Rec (even though its been correctly pointed out on here the conditions of local parks especially Mickey Stevens are in dire shape). This was another statement the Mayor made before anything concrete was established. The mayors overall response to the fiscal issues plaguing our city have left me feeling much more cynical. Whoever is advising the Mayor is failing him. On almost every important fiscal issue the Mayor has come across as deflecting or blaming others, playing politics or trying to spin to paint himself in the best light possible. Again, I voted for Mayor Solomon, I have no axe to grind and I wish him the best of luck over the next 2 years as he certainly will need it. I just want the best for our city and we're not going to get there by blaming others and scoring political points daily. I hope somebody steps up with REAL solutions before the harm done to our city is irreversible.

Friday, June 7
Cat

Solomon staying on the sidelines is one of the biggest problems we have in Warwick. Apparently, that is where he has been sitting for the past 20 years because he claims to be clueless about a lot of things going on in the city.

Friday, June 7
Bob_Cushman

As one of the few individuals who have experienced the dysfunctional relationship between city leaders and the school department while serving on both the school committee from 2003 - 2006 and the city council, from 2007 - 2008, I recognized this problem and proposed a common sense solution that would require leaders from the city and schools to meet to develop a long term coordinated strategic plan to fund schools and agree upon negotiating parameters with all bargaining units that were affordable to the tax payers and sustainable.

Sadly the resolution was ignored and the same old figure pointing and scapegoating by city leadership has continued for a decade plus..

I have sent an email of this resolution to Mayor Solomon, the entire city council, the school committee and the superintendent urging them to simply change that date and resubmit the resolution, as the language from that 11 year old resolution is as germane to today’s issues as it was in 2008 and this formal process is needed now more than ever.

I also emailed Councilman Sinapi suggesting rather than continue to divide the two bodies, he act as a statesman, at the next June council meeting and withdraw his hypercritical resolution and substitute this one in its place.

Here is the word for word resolution and the press release I wrote justifying it.

RESOLUTION REQUESTING AN EXECUTIVE LEVEL SUMMIT WITH THE MAYOR, CITY COUNCIL AND SCHOOL COMMITTEE REGARDING FUTURE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS

RESOLVED, that

WHEREAS, due to an anticipated reduction in state aid to cites and towns in the coming fiscal year and beyond, state mandated caps on tax levy increases, an overall downturn in the economy resulting in reduced revenues to local governments including the City of Warwick and other factors beyond the City’s control, future budgets on both the municipal and school sides will be strained to levels unseen in recent years; and

WHEREAS, in order to mitigate the negative impact on the taxpayers of the City of Warwick, while maintaining the current level of city and school services and avoiding layoffs, as well as to keep pace with necessary capital improvements, the City Council believes that the School Committee, City Council and the Mayor should initiate an executive level summit to coordinate and develop a long-term plan as a framework for the Mayor and Administration to meet the demands of all future labor agreements on the municipal side and for the School Committee to meet those same demands on the school side of the budget, including discussion of parameters relative to cost-of-living increases, health care co-pays and other salary and benefit issues; and

WHEREAS, the City Council believes that a coordinated effort to develop citywide policies governing labor contracts, all of which are due to expire in 2009, is in the best interest of the City of Warwick and its municipal departments and employees, the School Department and its employees, and Warwick taxpayers; and

WHEREAS, this is a matter of importance to the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the City of Warwick.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the City Council hereby requests that an executive level summit be initiated involving the Mayor, the City Council and the School Committee to coordinate and develop a framework for a long-term plan to meet the demands of all future labor agreements on both the municipal side and the school side of the budget, including discussion of parameters relative to cost-of-living increases, health care co-pays and other salary and benefit issues, while maintaining the current level of city and school services to the extent possible as well as the continuation of necessary capital improvements; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the members of the summit should be:

1) Mayor or his or her designee,

2) Finance Director of the City of Warwick or his or her designee,

3) Personnel Director of the City of Warwick or his or her designee,

4) Chairperson of the Warwick School Committee or his or her designee

5) Superintendent of the Warwick School Department or his or her designee,

6) Director of Business Affairs of the Warwick School Department or his or her designee,

7) Director of Human Resources of the Warwick School Department or his or her designee

8) Warwick City Council President or his or her designee, and

9) Chairperson of the City Council Finance Committee or his or her designee.

The School Committee Clerk is hereby directed to forward a copy of this Resolution to the Mayor, to the Chairman of the Warwick School Committee, and to the Superintendent of the Warwick School Department.

This Resolution shall take effect upon passage.

SPONSORED BY: COUNCILMAN CUSHMAN

COMMITTEE: INTERGOVERNMENTAL

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

Contact: Bob Cushman

CUSHMAN PROPOSES MUNICIPAL SUMMIT ON FUTURE OF ALL COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS IN CITY

With city’s labor contracts due to expire in 2009, City Councilman introduces resolution to develop coordinated approach to negotiating new deals and cutting costs for taxpayers

(Warwick, March 4, 2008) The contracts for Warwick police officers, fire fighters, municipal employees and teachers all set to expire in 2009. While some look at that with trepidation, City Councilman Bob Cushman believes the timing presents city officials with an opportunity to develop a unified, comprehensive approach to negotiating new deals with the city’s union—deals which recognize the need to reign in the spiraling costs of public employee health care and benefits.

Cushman will introduce a resolution next week to convene an executive level summit between the Mayor, City Council and School Department to begin the work of developing a long-term, strategic approach to negotiating all city contracts. In past years, contract negotiations have been a haphazard affair, moving from one union contract to another with no attempt to have a coordinated policy or a uniform set of expectations when crafting these agreements.

Cushman added, “With all of the city’s contracts coming to an end in 2009, we need to have a clear game plan going into those negotiations along with a shared commitment to reduce costs and eliminate the give-a-ways that our taxpayers can no longer afford.”

The resolution calls for a summit between key city officials “to coordinate and develop a framework for a long-term plan to meet the demands of all future labor agreements on both the municipal side and the school side of the budget, including discussion of parameters relative to cost-of-living increases, health care co-pays and other salary and benefit issues”. Participants in the summit would be the Mayor, City Finance Director, City Personnel Director, Chair of the Warwick School Committee, Superintendent of the Warwick School Department, Director of Business Affairs for the School Department, Director of Human Resources for the School Department, the City Council President, and the Chair of the City Council’s Finance Committee.

Cushman said such a summit and a strategic approach to contract negotiations is necessary to protect the interests of taxpayers, while maintaining current levels of city and school services and avoiding layoffs.

“The city is facing enormous financial strains because of the state budget crisis, the exploding costs of public employee health and benefits packages, and a series of decisions in the city over the last few years to put off paying its bills in a timely way,” said Cushman. “The business as usual approach to contract negotiations has to change. We need to bring all city officials together and develop a plan for what constitutes a realistic, fair and affordable contract for city employees.”

Cushman concluded, “If we don’t have that conversation, we are going to be stuck with another set of contracts our taxpayers can’t afford and legacy costs which could bankrupt our city. The Mayor himself stated in June, 2006 that ‘retiree benefits [are] the big issues of the future’. Well the future is now and this is our best bet for dealing with this issue in a sensible way.”

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Friday, June 7
just do it

I agree with all the posts listed above. Sinapi has demonstrated how much he doesn't know and has presented himself to be a fool.

I agree the current Mayor hasn't demonstrated the leadership skills he displayed on the city council. Instead of challenging the unions he has catered to them. With all the current Mayor's shortcomings, they still pale in comparsion to Avedisian.

Let's not forget Scotty was the one who level funded the school dept for years. He was to busy getting rolled by the WFD. How much was over the top OT by the WFD during that time? How about the outlandish benefits Scotty bestowed on city workers ?

Warwick is broke and it is time to declare bankruptcy.

Friday, June 7
just do it

I agree with all the posts listed above. Sinapi has demonstrated how much he doesn't know and has presented himself to be a fool.

I agree the current Mayor hasn't demonstrated the leadership skills he displayed on the city council. Instead of challenging the unions he has catered to them. With all the current Mayor's shortcomings, they still pale in comparsion to Avedisian.

Let's not forget Scotty was the one who level funded the school dept for years. He was to busy getting rolled by the WFD. How much was over the top OT by the WFD during that time? How about the outlandish benefits Scotty bestowed on city workers ?

Warwick is broke and it is time to declare bankruptcy.

Friday, June 7
wwkvoter

Cushman's resolution is great. Maybe after the State intervention under the FSA, it can finally be adopted.

Saturday, June 8
Patient Man

Warwick is toast. I just don't see revenues keeping pace with

The Evergreen Contracts law is going to prevent the city from ever getting concessions from the unions. Cutting municipal employees will be the tool at the cities disposal (aside from tax increases which are coming for the foreseeable future). Rhode Island may already be in a recession according to a URI economist. What happens when state aid is cut & city revenues decline?

The firefighter OT bill is going to crush the city. Maybe a Chief from outside the department will be able to control it better than in the past.

With the recovery in home prices there has been a huge increase in the number of sales in my neighborhood. Informed neighbors are selling to uninformed buyers. I think homeowners have been underwater on homes bought prior to 2008 & are finally seeing an opportunity to get out.

We have 1/2 the student population we once had. The school population is in continued decline. Of course school spending shouldn't grow at the same rate as the general economy.

Unless there is a massive influx of business investment in Warwick & Rhode Island, Warwick's bankruptcy seems inevitable. Would you start or grow a business in Rhode Island?

Monday, June 10
Jimmy

Patient Man,

How will

The OT bill affect Warwick? They have been paying OT after 42 Hours for decades. Nothing will change. There is no cost associated with this bill. It simply prevents the city from forcing a firefighter to work 14 hours more a week for no pay.

Monday, June 10
PaulHuff

Patient Man,

You stated " The Evergreen Contracts law is going to prevent the city from ever getting concessions from the unions."

You do realize that the Fire and Police Departments have had this provision in their contracts already correct? It's been there for years. The only one that did not appear to have it is the Municipal union.

So the sky isn't falling regarding the new "Evergreen contracts" law.

Monday, June 10
Patient Man

Jimmy,

I didn't realize WFD already received OT after 42 hours. Seems like a dumb thing to have done. Now the city can't go to a 3 platoon system as an option. One more tool taken away from cities & towns facing severe budget problems.

PaulHuff,

The Mayors from around the state have been clear that Evergreen Contracts will cost the cities more money. The city is projecting massive budget deficits for the foreseeable future. The lack of urgency seems naive.

Monday, June 10
Jimmy

I don’t see how REQUIRING someone to work 14 hours more a week (for free) is acceptable.

Monday, June 10
Patient Man

Because it's the Federal standard for how much you should get paid for sleeping at work. Moody's has issued a warning on Rhode Islands bonds. To believe the two bills won't cost Rhode Islanders money is naive or intellectually dishonest.

Monday, June 10
Jimmy

Patient Man,

It’s also federal standard that there are five firefighters on an engine and four firefighters on a ladder. Warwick does not come close to that standard. Do we just pick whatever standard we want to follow.

Monday, June 10
Patient Man

Jimmy, math is math. The city is broke. Bankruptcy is on a serious reality. Do you think there is any chance of retiree's giving concessions similar to other RI communities?

Monday, June 10
Jimmy

We don’t negotiate for the retirees. We negotiate for active employees. The city would need to contact them and negotiate. They have nothing to do with active employee negations or future retiree negotiations.

Monday, June 10
Patient Man

Jimmy,

I understand the union doesn't negotiate for the retiree's. Providence & Cranston have both adjusted current pensions. My question was do you think there is any way Warwick muni retirees care enough about Warwick's future to make concessions. If you don't have any idea, that's fine.

Monday, June 10
Jimmy

I 100% think Yes they do.

Monday, June 10