To the Editor:
In the last month, two different scandals have surfaced regarding Warwick firefighter compensation outside any legal contract.
In the first, we learned that the then chief of the fire department (and former union president) executed a “side deal” with the then current union president that allowed firefighters to be paid 50 percent more for unused sick time than the contract allowed. This kind of deal, which was not ratified by the City Council, is legally not valid. Many hundreds of thousands of dollars were improperly taken by firefighters under this scheme.
In the second, we learned that a clause was inserted into the contract that was never ratified by the City Council. This clause allowed retiring firefighters to monetize banked (unused) vacation time at a rate 20 percent higher than provided under the contract. It is not yet known how much money was improperly taken under this scheme.
Whoever inserted this clause without ratification into the contract has truly violated the public trust, and probably committed several serious crimes.
What in tarnation is going on here?
In a nutshell, it is my belief that the fire department has been poorly led. We have seen a parade of short-term fire chiefs in the last decade. Without a long-term person in charge, the position of fire chief has simply become a tool for preserving the current status quo – and nothing more.
Promoting chief after chief from within the union ranks simply ensures that union priorities take precedence over any other. The empirical evidence proves the truth of my statement.
The Warwick Fire Department has truly run amok. After the news broke of the first “side deal,” my business office was “inspected” by the fire department. This can only have been a ham-handed attempt at intimidation. The pretense for the inspection was an “anonymous, non-specific complaint” lodged against the building in which my office is located.
Since when in America do we allow public servants to invade an office with such a flimsy excuse? While I am not a resident of Warwick, my businesses pay five figures in taxes every year to the city.
The City Council should pass an ordinance protecting city taxpayers from this kind of overreach, and outlawing municipal worker attempts at intimidation. Any public servant who uses their public position to intimidate should not only lose their job – they should lose their pension.
I have to fault former Mayor Avedisian for creating the environment in which the lawlessness discussed above was able to flourish.
Will Mayor Solomon tame the fire department? Will he bring in a new chief from outside Rhode Island to return the department to the prideful, humble service that many fire departments provide?
Will Warwick formally apologize for the invasion of my office? Will the City Council exert its authority and step in with oversight and guidance to put things on the right track?
Will law enforcement find criminality in the events described, and will taxpayers be made whole?
Most importantly, will the next municipal contracting scandal be exposed by the city, during a systematic examination of all its labor contracts and expenditures related to those contracts, or will tax payer activists be responsible for providing the oversight that has been lacking from Warwick government?
I guess we will have to wait to see.
I strongly urge all taxpayers, whether residents or businesses, to pressure the mayor and City Council to raise the intensity of any efforts they are making to uncover and correct these serious problems, and communicate their progress to taxpayers who are tired of being abused.
Simpatico Software Systems