Gone But Not Forgotten: Council Members Question Esserman’s Severance Pay

Saturday, July 02, 2011

 

Former Providence Police Chief Col. Dean Esserman is expected to receive $167,802.55 in a severance package that includes cashing in two weeks of unused sick leave, 43 days of unused vacation time and the return of well over $100k in mandatory contributions he made to his pension over the course of his tenure in the city.

Now some City Councilman want to know if they’ll be voting to approve the generous package while others are questioning the timing of the payout, arguing that it’s difficult to accept giving anyone such a large severance package given the city’s continuing fiscal struggles.

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Esserman resigned last week following a graduation party that involved dozens of underage drinkers at his East Side home last month. His last day with the Police Department was Thursday. Deputy Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. has been named interim Police Chief.

Package Could Need Council Approval

Before Esserman receives the $167k, City Councilman Michael Correia said he believes the Council needs to vote to approve everything in the deal except vacation time, which he says state law requires the city to pay out.

Correia, who has been an outspoken critic of Esserman since taking office in January, said he was told that the Council is supposed to vote on what the former Chief is owed.

“I had a conversation with {City Treasurer} Jim Lombardi,” Correia said. “He informed me that by law, we are required to pay vacation time. The sick time and any other part of the package needs to go for Council approval. My opinion is that we should give him what we owe and let the Council vote on the rest. If he’s entitled to it, he’ll get it. If not, he won’t. And that goes for everyone, not just the Chief.”

City: Esserman Legally Entitled To Benefits

But the city maintains that the former Police Chief is allowed to receive the entire package without Council approval. It was something that he negotiated when he came to the city, which the Council did approve at the time. Despite not being on a contract since Mayor Taveras took office, Esserman had been operating off of his expired contract, which paid him $168,000 in yearly salary.

City spokesperson David Ortiz said the City Solicitor’s officer has informed the city that Esserman is legally entitled to the entire package.

“The City Solicitor’s Office has determined that under the terms of his contract, Col. Esserman is entitled to receive terminal benefits of $8,723.09 for 13.5 days of unused sick leave, and $28,107.74 for 43.5 days of unused vacation time. In addition, since his pension has not vested, the city is required to return the $111,185.83 in mandatory contributions that Col. Esserman made as of June 23, along with the $19,785.89 interest earned on his pension contribution.”

Difficult To Justify

Councilman David Salvatore said that he understands that Esserman is entitled to the money that is owed to him, but he finds it difficult to justify giving out such a large severance package when the city is still not on firm financial footing.

Salvatore said the Council must continue to remember that the fiscal storm Mayor Taveras has talked about is still happening.

“It is my understanding that Chief Esserman's severance pay is contractually owed to him,” Salvatore said. “While our economic environment remains fragile, my colleagues on the City Council and myself must continue to be cognizant of the fact that we have not weathered the financial storm that is among us. It is difficult to justify such generous severance packages to the high number of unemployed Providence residents.”

Sanchez: City Can’t Afford It

Councilman Davian Sanchez agreed with Salvatore. He said that he recognized the Council approved the Chief’s contract at one time, but he also knows that the city is still trying to get itself out of a fiscal crisis that includes an estimated $110 million structural deficit.

“I realize the Chief is entitled to his severance, but over $100,000 is a lot of money that the city can't afford right now,” Sanchez said.

This Isn’t A Surprise

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But for Councilman Miguel Luna, who was on the Council when Esserman came on board, the Chief’s severance package comes as no surprise.

Luna said Esserman negotiated the contract and that the Council has always known about the details. He said that Esserman’s situation is unlike other administrators in the past, which have received perks that never met Council approval.

“I mean, this was something that was negotiated so it’s not a surprise, which is different than what has happened with different administrators in the past,” Luna said. “People were getting benefits and pay without Council approval before, but the Chief’s contract was approved by the Council.”
 

 
 

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