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City Official Wants to Revoke Cicilline’s Future Pension

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


A city official is so upset over the Providence budget mess that he wants to prevent Congressman and former Mayor David Cicilline from receiving a pension in the future.

“The city is in fiscal distress and I blame most of it on him,” said Kerion O’Mara, a retired police officer who sits on the Providence Retirement Board. “Why should he be entitled to anything?”

O’Mara yesterday submitted a written request to have the revocation or reduction of Cicilline's pension put on the agenda for the retirement board meeting next week. He points to the new ordinance the city passed that says a pension can be revoked for "dishonorable" service. The new ordinance is broader than the previous one, allowing for a pension to be pulled in cases of “misconduct” even if no criminal conviction is involved. (The ordinance is not yet available online.)

“If it pertains to damage to the city, the former mayor and his designees have done more damage to the city than many people who got their pensions revoked,” said board member James Lombardi, who is the City Treasurer and former Internal Auditor.

Since he held office for eight years, Cicilline is two years shy of being vested in the regular city pension system. But he would qualify for the special elected official pension—except Cicilline yesterday told GoLocalProv that he waived that second, special pension when he was first elected because he believed it was inappropriate to receive two pensions for one job.

Cicilline: ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard’

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard,” Cicilline said. “I’m clearly not entitled to a pension.”

But O’Mara questioned whether Cicilline had signed a formal waiver—if not, he said Cicilline could change his mind and still apply for it. “If it’s not in writing, it means nothing,” he said.

When O’Mara stopped by the city pension office yesterday and asked for a copy of the waiver, the office was not able to produce it on the spot. And the pension administrator, Octavio Cunha, did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Even if the office eventually does dig up the written waiver, O’Mara said he will press forward with the process of revoking any credits Cicilline earned in the regular pension system—to ensure that he does not get a pension in the future were he to return to the city as an elected official or employee.

Alleged misdeeds

O’Mara cites four actions by Cicilline that he says should cause him to lose his right to any pension in the future:

■ Stalling the Internal Auditor: “He denied Internal Auditor James Lombardi access to financial records which were pertinent to the fiscal crisis in the City of Providence,” O’Mara writes. Last fall Lombardi himself told GoLocalProv that the administration resisted turning over records. It got to the point that he had to submit pubic information requests just to get the information he needed. At the time, Cicilline’s spokesperson disputed Lombardi’s account.

■ Blocking outside audit: O’Mara says the outside auditor received the same treatment. (Click here to read the previous GoLocalProv report on the delay in the annual audit.)

■ Misuse of city resources: O’Mara also accuses Cicilline of using city personnel and his official vehicle to campaign for Congress. When the Hummel Report first reported that Cicilline was using the city vehicle on campaign trips, Cicilline said the city would be reimbursed at a standard federal rate. But that still ran afoul of a city ordinance that bars personal use of a vehicle outside of the city, according to Hummel.

■ Inappropriate salary raise: O’Mara cites reports last summer than Cicilline received a pay raise—in violation of city ordinance—and then, “when confronted, stated he was not aware he received a raise.”

O’Mara says blocking access to records is especially egregious. “To me, he did that for personal gain to get elected to Congress and I believe this falls under the ordinance,” O’Mara said.

O’Mara says there’s much more—but he is keeping his cards close to his vest until the matter is taken up by the retirement board next week.

Cicilline ‘did more damage than others’

Whether his effort to block Cicilline’s pension will go anywhere is not clear. “Do I think there’s enough to go forward?... Yes,” O’Mara said. “Whether it passes in the retirement board—I don’t know.”

Lombardi said he would have to review the evidence and information presented before making a determination.

And there are certainly other Cicilline detractors on the 13-member retirement board, such as Councilman John Igliozzi, who has accused the past administration of stonewalling auditors and withholding information to benefit Cicilline's Congressional campaign last fall. Yesterday, Igliozzi did not return calls for comment.

There are also likely allies, such as former Director of Administration Rich Kerbel, who Mayor Angel Taveras has kept on as the acting Finance Director.

Other board members criticized the effort to revoke Cicilline’s pension. “Right now there are other axes to grind. Cicilline is gone. He’s off. As far as I’m concerned, people elected him to another job,” said Sgt. Raymond A. Hull, who represents active duty police on the board. “If we keep moving back, we’re never moving forward.”

Hull, who is also a state rep, says he doesn’t see any “substance” to what O’Mara is trying to do. But, he added: “I’m keeping an open mind. Period.”

“It's quite a stretch to call this dishonorable service,” said Kenneth Richardson, another board member. “I wouldn't support it.”

Revoked pensions

So far, even efforts to revoke pensions for those who fall under the narrowest definitions of dishonorable service have not been very successful. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ruled that the city could not cancel the pensions of a former police chief and major who were implicated in a cheating scandal on promotions tests. The same went for a former Parks Department worker who admitted to embezzling nearly $30,000 from the city.

The high court ruled that none of those three officials could lose their pensions because they had never been convicted—the two officers were never charged in connection with their misbehavior and the Parks Department supervisor pled no contest to her charges. (The City Council passed and Taveras signed into law a new honorable service ordinance in response to that court ruling.)

And one notable city official who does have a criminal conviction on his record—another former mayor, Buddy Cianci—hasn’t had his pension revoked either. That action was on the agenda for the retirement board earlier this year but no action was taken, because Cianci hasn’t applied for his pension yet, board members told GoLocalProv in previous interviews.

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