Same Old Song and Dance
When did cronyism and political wheeling and dealing become so up-front and in-your-face in the Providence political scene? If this is the way of the future, many people will be longing for the time when Cianci was in office. At least back then a person wishing to manipulate the system had to do so behind the scenes. A bribe paid to a third party or the sudden support of a labor member would be required to be delivered prior to any payoff or political favors. Ahhhh…the good old days!!
All those deals seem to be a thing of the past in Providence…or are they?
I realize that Mayor Cicilline ran for his first term under the platform of “fair and honest government”. It seems to me that he forgot this plank of his platform as soon as he was sworn in as mayor. He broke just about every promise he made on the campaign trail within his first year in office. I can’t even begin to list them all, so let me concentrate on those broken promises and outright lies that I’ve lived with over the last 5 years as a firefighter in the City of Providence.
First of all he promised to sit down and talk to the firefighters as soon as he was in office - and promised that our contract issue would be resolved within the first months of his administration. Instead, he immediately hired John Simmons as his right hand man (at an outrageous and ever-growing sum of money). The mayor then put Mr. Simmons (who had a previous and unproductive relationship with the firefighter’s union) in charge of negotiating with Local799. The mayor refused to talk with us directly!
During the campaign, then candidate Cicilline signed a petition at our union hall demanding the abolishment of the residency bill – of course it should be stated that he was looking for our support at that time. One of the first things Mayor Cicilline did was push for the enforcement of the residency requirements, touting them as essential for the welfare of our city. When he was asked to explain his apparent about-face on the issue he stated that he was always a supporter of residency. When asked why he signed the petition demanding its abolishment he merely stated that he didn’t realize what he was signing!!!! Either he’s lying – or he’s not bright enough to run our capitol city.
The mayor states the welfare of the Providence citizen and taxpayer as his motivation for holding down the costs of running the fire department by not giving in to the firefighter’s demands. He can never address just what unreasonable demands the firefighters have put on the city. He can only speak in vague terms regarding expected higher costs for healthcare and pensions – these are facts of life for everyone, not just the City of Providence. Yet, for all his concern over the difference of a couple of percentage points in co-shares or in the salaries of the city ‘workers’, he’s begun a bidding war among the department heads and his administrative staff. As stated previously, Mr. Simmons is being paid an exorbitant salary! The present Chief of Police in Providence is being paid more than double the salary and perks as his predecessor. Now we hear that the ‘new’ Chief of the Providence Fire Department is being offered a contract that will guarantee that he will eventually make more than Esserman. I guess it’s good to be the chief!!
This type of behavior is typical for someone who delegates his responsibilities and has no idea of what it’s like to be one of the ‘workers’. I just can’t understand why this person would choose to run as a Democrat. Never mind, I have to take that back. He realizes that a Republican candidate would probably never be elected in the City of Providence. Seeing that he’s already demonstrated that principles are not part of his makeup, he may as well just call himself a Democrat - and then act any way he pleases.
I am surprised, however, that the members of Providence’s City Council seem to be falling right into place for the young mayor. Aren’t they all Democrats??!!?? I’m not talking about giving away the candy store to unreasonable demands of unions or labor, I’m just speaking of fair and equitable treatment of all city workers – not just the one’s who wear suits to work.
For instance, many people believed that the Class B retirement system was saturated with exaggerated disability pensions. Fact or myth, this was the perception. The proposed solution was to make the pension board operate under more stringent guidelines and guarantee fair and impartial treatment of each prospective retiree based solely on the merits of his/her individual case. Fair enough!
The results were reminiscent of the work of a union-buster from back in the thirties! A firefighter must first prove that his injury is 100% disabling him from performing his duties. That’s OK, but he must then show the exact incident at which it happened. That may sound easy, but it can be tricky. Take, for instance, the case of a firefighter with 7 years on the job who ripped up his knee at a fire (100% documented) and had surgery to enable him to return to work. The department carried him as IOD (injured on duty) until he was cleared by his doctor to return to work.
This firefighter returned to a fire company and did his job for an additional 10 years before he ripped up the same knee once again at a different fire scene. When his doctor told him that he couldn’t repair the knee well enough to allow him to return to work the firefighter filed for an Accidental Disability pension. He did this within a few months of the injury. An Accidental Disability pension is the type of pension that a firefighter receives if he is disabled ‘on-the-job’ and is forced to retire.
The pension board’s decision? The firefighter was not entitled to an Accidental Disability pension. He was only qualified, they said, for a Regular Disability pension. This meant that the firefighter and his doctors had proven to the board that he was, indeed, disabled. The firefighter and his doctors were unable, however, to prove that the firefighter’s injury was an ‘on-the-job’ injury.
The reason for this, though tragic for the firefighter, is really quite amusing. The City of Providence, during the hey days of suspected disability pension fraud, passed an ordinance that stated that a member of the Class B pension system (Providence Police and Fire) could not claim an injury which happened more than 18-months prior to his filing for the pension as a reason for his disability. Furthermore, this injury could not be brought up in any way on the member’s behalf during pension board meetings. In essence, it never happened.
How does this effect our firefighter you ask? Well, the pension board decided that it couldn’t award an Accidental Disability pension to a member for an on-the-job knee injury if the member had a prior history of knee problems. This wouldn’t be fair to the taxpayers, after all, as he already had a pre-existing medical condition prior to the fire which ultimately caused his disability!
It didn’t matter that his prior history was an older on-the-job injury. That injury never happened…as far as the pension board was concerned.
If this ordinance didn’t stack the deck against legitimate claims for disability pensions enough, the mayor had a referendum placed on last years city ballot giving him the authority to appoint two additional members to the pension board. This would assure that the majority of the board were city appointed designees who would vote as they were instructed.
The mayor has been in office for 5 years now and he has yet to negotiate a single contract with the city’s firefighters. After much stalling by the city, and much picketing by the firefighters, a neutral arbitrator finally settled three single year contracts between the two parties last year. What most citizens don’t realize is that as of this writing (March 27, 2007) Providence firefighters have been working with no contract, once again, for 1,000 days! The two parties are, once again, forced to have a neutral arbitrator decide our contract.
This mayor says all the right things to the media and the citizens of Providence. Unfortunately for the citizens (and the workers) of Providence, it is actions and deeds which ultimately measure one’s worth. I’m afraid our mayor just doesn’t measure up in that column.