NEWS

2018 brief finding firefighter payments were 'violation' comes to light

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 9/9/21

By JOHN HOWELL Michael Correiro, president of the Warwick Firefighters Union, says none of the Fire Department's members received excess unused sick leave payments and it's time to move on. Mayor Frank Picozzi is turning the matter over to the city

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NEWS

2018 brief finding firefighter payments were 'violation' comes to light

Posted

Michael Correiro, president of the Warwick Firefighters Union, says none of the Fire Department’s members received excess unused sick leave payments and it’s time to move on.

Mayor Frank Picozzi is turning the matter over to the city solicitor.

And Rob Cote is broadcasting that a legal brief issued Nov. 3 2018, by former City Council Solicitor John Harrington, but not made public until now, is proof that the change in payment of unused sick time was in violation of the contract and the mayor should demand restitution from more than 80 firefighters.

The brief was included in the Marcum report, commissioned by the City Council more than three years ago but not released until two weeks ago. The report was a byproduct of an ethics complaint Cote filed against former City Council President Steve Merolla. The state Ethics Commission found probable cause of a violation of the ethics code because Thomas Lisi, who was a partner in the accounting firm YKSM, which was acquired by Marcum, was Merolla’s campaign manager and business accountant. Merolla voted on payments to YKSM and when former Mayor Joseph Solomon refused to do so, sought to get municipal employees to cut the check.

Meanwhile, the YKSM study of unused sick pay and its findings remained with Marcum, presumably because of the $27,000 the firm was due. That changed when the Ethics Commission requested the report, and soon after its ruling on Merolla, the document was released.

The Harrington brief, which was included in the Marcum report documents, is a 10-page brief. It concludes that the “2013 document that purported to be an agreement between the Union and the City modifying the payment of excess unused sick leave is void and unenforceable.”

It goes on to read, “Any credit for additional sick leave or additional compensation that was paid to employees based on that 2013 document was credited or paid in violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was in effect from 2012 to 2018.”

Harrington writes that the city “should pursue restitution and reimbursement for those credits and payments from the Union and/or individuals who benefited from the changes that occurred under the 2013 document.”

According to the YKSM (now Marcum) report, depending on the calculation used, firefighters were collectively paid $385,875 in excess payments.

Cote finds it suspicious the Harrington brief did not come to light sooner, as he thought it should have been included in at least one of three public information requests of the city for all documents relating to firefighter pay and the YKSM report. Cote is calling on the mayor to pursue restitution and asks whether criminal charges should be brought against Merolla for failing to give the brief to the council. He speculates the brief was hidden so as to permit the statute of limitations for legal action against the firefighters to expire. He is unclear what the statute is – either three or five years – as he claims that is based on the amounts paid firefighters.

The so-called “side deal” to the firefighters contract was signed by then Chief Edmund Armstrong and witnessed by then Solicitor Peter Ruggiero. It was never signed by former Mayor Scott Avedisian or brought to the City Council for a vote as an amendment to the contract. Mayor Solomon stopped the practice and the contract approved in 2018 reverted to the former method of calculating unused sick leave.

“The solicitor [current City Solicitor Jeff Ursillo] has it and he’s analyzing the whole thing,” Picozzi said when asked about the Harrington brief and whether he would pursue restitution from the firefighters. He added, “Joe [Solomon] fixed it in the contract and we’ll go from there.”

City Council President Steve McAllister said he hadn’t read the Harrington brief but he trusted Ursillo to follow up.

Carriero said he doesn’t understand how firefighters could have been paid excess amounts, because as he views it the arrangement was nothing more than a change in when the payments were made. He said a union study of the payments found nothing out of place. He’s not surprised by the YKSM report because they were hired on the premise that the system was being worked for excess pay.

“We don’t like to go backward. We’re passed that,” he said.

Merolla did not respond to a voice message and email for comment.

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