City Council Clashes with Taveras over Disability Pension Request
Thursday, March 21, 2013
At issue is a request for a waiver on a city rule that employees injured on the job have 18 months from the date of the accident to apply for a disability pension. The council granted the waiver in February but Taveras nixed that waiver in a lengthy two-page veto message that has stirred controversy because it disclosed confidential information from the employee’s personnel file.
Three years ago, Providence Water Supply Board worker Steven DeConte suffered a head injury when he tried to lift a 200-pound rack on his own, without his protective gear, according to the veto message. DeConte, a 23-year veteran of city workforce, received workers compensation and in June 2012 reached a settlement agreement with the city in which he accepted a lump sum payment of $125,000 in exchange for his resignation.
DeConte is now also seeking a disability pension from the city, which would allow him to retire on two-thirds of his income tax-free. But he filed his application more than 18 months after the injury, forcing him to seek a waiver of the deadline.
Taveras accused of releasing confidential employee information
This wasn’t the first time DeConte was hurt on the job. During his time at the Water Supply Board he was injured seven times. Moreover, he was disciplined on 24 occasions, including his last and final injury, for failing to follow the department’s “basic safety message,” Taveras states in his March 4 veto letter to the council.
“I really disagree with that. I don’t think that should have been mentioned,” said Councilman Wilbur Jennings. “I think that’s inappropriate.” (See below for an excerpt from the letter.)
Councilman Kevin Jackson said the disclosure was “beyond the scope of the veto.” He said the city should not be punishing DeConte now for infractions committed years ago.
Council override of Taveras likely
All three council members said they intended to override the veto. Council members Sabina Matos and Luis Aponte yesterday confirmed that they intend to vote in favor as well. A two thirds vote—equal to ten council members—is needed for a successful override and, as of last night, only four members were known to be in opposition: President Michael Solomon, Majority Leader Seth Yurdin, Ways and Means Chairman David Salvatore, and Sam Zurier.
An override of a mayoral veto is not unheard of, but it is rare, city officials said.
In the two years in which Taveras has been mayor, the council has overturned his vetoes a mere handful of times.
In separate interviews, council members couldn’t explain why a procedural issue involving a single employee has exploded into such a confrontation.
“I wish I knew. I don’t know why,” Jennings said.
The Mayor’s office, for its part, refused to comment at all for this report.
It’s an interesting coincidence that a far more monumental pension-related matter is on the agenda for a special meeting of the city council tonight: the approval of the negotiated settlement on pension reform with Providence retirees. The deal is expected to shave $18 million off annual retirement costs and drop the unfunded liability by an estimated $190 million, putting the retirement system on the path to sustainability, according to Salvatore.
Council members split over pension question
Council members seemed to be in agreement on at least one aspect of the disability pension waiver request last night: no one cited DeConte’s track record of injuries and alleged safety violations as a reason to oppose his request. Two council members who said they plan to vote against the veto override instead pointed to other factors.
One of them, Salvatore, said the Ways and Means Committee had given DeConte an opportunity to make his case.
Salvatore said that ultimately the available facts in the case did not warrant the waiver. Salvatore noted that DeConte’s employment has been terminated, meaning that he is no longer a member of the retirement system. Plus, he said the city Law Department had recommended against granting the waiver.
The council members who said they support the request—and are willing to override a mayoral veto to grant it—emphasized in interviews that granting the waiver is merely a procedural issue. They said that DeConte’s past record on injuries and safety-related issues had no bearing on whether he deserved the waiver. It is up to the retirement board, based on recommendations from three doctors, to determine if he in fact deserves a disability pension, they said.
Granting the waiver, council members said, simply allows him to make his case before the board.
“They make the ultimate call,” Jennings said.
“It’s no harm, no foul,” Igliozzi said. “We’re not giving anything.”
Igliozzi couched the issue as a basic issue of due process. Everybody, he said, deserves the opportunity to state their case. But Salvatore said the council is under no obligation to grant the waivers.
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