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Extra Vacation Time Costs Providence Nearly $500,000

Monday, October 18, 2010

 

A GoLocalProv investigation has found that Mayor David Cicilline has been handing out extra vacation time to his senior staff—in excess of what is allowed by ordinance, costing nearly $500,000.

“It’s the constant battle of this administration trying to get one over on the people of Providence,” said John Igliozzi, chairman of the city council finance committee. “The idea is to get away with as much as you possibly can without getting caught.”

The person with the most time is Col. Dean Esserman, the chief of police. He has racked up 24 extra weeks so far and is due for six more extra weeks in January. The total cost? $90,457.50.

Employees Could Collect $263K in January

Overall, 15 directors and department heads have received extra paid vacation time, costing $452,979.80 as of January 1, 2011, according to data provided by the City Internal Auditor in response to a GoLocalProv query. That figure includes the extra time they have used as well as the unused time for which they will be paid when they leave city service.

“For the record I am not blaming anyone on the list or implying they are doing something wrong,” City Internal Auditor James Lombardi told GoLocalProv. “It is the mayor and administration exceeding their authority, costing the taxpayer an additional half million."

A number of those directors are expected to leave when a new administration takes charge in January. If all 15 departed and collected their extra unused vacation time, the city budget would see an unexpected hit of $263,027.47.

Lombardi calls the expense “misappropriation” of funds that would be in violation of the city ordinance on vacation pay. “This is an additional cost that has never been seen by Providence,” Lombardi said. “This has never happened in Providence where people were provided additional leave.”

Mayor Confronted over Costs Five Years Ago

Lombardi first blew the whistle on the practice in a May 4, 2005 memo. At the time, he estimated the extra vacations had a cost of $137,000 and predicted the amount would soar to hundreds of thousands of dollars if unchecked.

“During a time where taxes are mostly being raised, it does not make financial sense to dole out these benefits,” Lombardi wrote in the memo. “It is also unfair to rank and file employees who have worked here fifteen years and only receive three weeks vacation per year while a select now get equal vacation time after working six weeks. This administration is creating a two-class system in the city workforce. The long-term effect is a complete break down of morale of the City’s rank and file.”

Instead of stopping the practice, Lombardi says the mayor and the administration “chose to ignore the costs.”

City Says Ordinance Does Not Apply

City Solicitor Adrienne Southgate told GoLocalProv that those employees who had individual contracts were not bound by the ordinance.

But Igliozzi said contracts are only valid if they have been ratified by the city council. Of the 15 directors receiving the extra vacation weeks, only two have ratified contracts, according to Lombardi: Col. Dean Esserman, chief of police, and Pamela Marchand, chief engineer for the Water Supply Board. (Her contract was ratified by the Water Supply Board.)

Karen Watts, spokeswoman for Cicilline, defended the practice. “The budget for the Mayor’s staff is approved by the Council every year and it is the Mayor’s prerogative to allocate resources for his staff as he deems appropriate,” Watts said. “In addition, it is the Mayor’s prerogative to make appropriate offers of employment to attract excellent prospective candidates for service on his staff.”

Lombardi concedes that the mayor may have the authority to give extra vacation time to directors while they are still working for the city—but he insists that the city ordinance should still bar them from being paid for any of that unused extra time once they leave. And, he points out that the payouts for unused vacation time are not included in the annual city budget.

So far, three employees who received extra time under Cicilline have left the city, collecting a total of $35,225 when they left. Those employees were: Leo Messier, former Director of Emergency Management; Michael Mello, former Chief of Staff, and John Simmons, former Director of Administration.


 

 

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