Public Pensions: Not Just for Public Employees Anymore (in West Warwick)?

Here’s what you might think is a simple question. Should a non-town employee be eligible to receive a town pension? If the town involved is West Warwick, the answer is not comprehensible.
Tracy Proulx of the Kent County Times has the whole story…

On April 17, 2006, [West Warwick Resident Alan Palazzo] submitted an APRA (Access to Public Records Act) request to the town seeking information regarding a pension authorization and contribution for a person who he said he believed was not a town employee.
Palazzo received a letter from Joseph Pezza, the pension board’s attorney, stating that his request was denied based on Rhode Island General Laws 38-2-2(4)(i)(A)(I). That law exempts items such as information regarding personal finances, welfare, employment security, and similar matters from being considered public records.
Palazzo said he filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office, stating that the documents he requested properly fall within R.I. General Law 38-2-2(4)(i)(A)(II). That law states that “pension records of all persons who are either current or retired members of the retirement systems … shall be open for public inspection.”
But contrary to what Mr. Pezza may believe, Section I of R.I. General Laws 38-2-2(4)(i)(A) is clear that certain information about public employees is to be made available to the public…
For the purposes of this chapter, the following records shall not be deemed public:
(A)(I) All records which are identifiable to an individual applicant for benefits, client, patient, student, or employee, including, but not limited to, personnel, medical treatment, welfare, employment security, pupil records, all records relating to a client/attorney relationship and to a doctor/patient relationship, and all personal or medical information relating to an individual in any files, including information relating to medical or psychological facts, personal finances, welfare, employment security, student performance, or information in personnel files maintained to hire, evaluate, promote, or discipline any employee of a public body; provided, however, with respect to employees, the name, gross salary, salary range, total cost of paid fringe benefits, gross amount received in overtime, and other remuneration in addition to salary, job title, job description, dates of employment and positions held with the state or municipality, work location, business telephone number, the city or town of residence, and date of termination shall be public.
At the very least, West Warwick has to release the dates that Beneficiary X was a town employee (or state that he or she never was), his or her salary range at the time of employment, and the amount spent on fringe benefits for this person. And that’s before we get to the exception in section II mentioned by Mr. Palazzo…
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, or any other provision of the general laws to the contrary, the pension records of all persons who are either current or retired members of the retirement systems established by the general laws as well as all persons who become members of those retirement systems after June 17, 1991 shall be open for public inspection. “Pension records” as used in this section shall include all records containing information concerning pension and retirement benefits of current and retired members of the retirement systems established in title 8, title 36, title 42, and title 45 and future members of said systems, including all records concerning retirement credits purchased and the ability of any member of the retirement system to purchase retirement credits…
On top of the compliance problems, there appears to be some confusion within West Warwick municipal government about Beneficiary X’s exact employment status. Mr. Pezza says Beneficiary X currently is a town employee…
Pezza confirmed that the person Palazzo was inquiring about was currently a town employee and gave information regarding how the pension plan was formed. Since the person was considered a town employee, the attorney general’s department determined that the records were public and “must be disclosed.”
The department found that the town “violated the APRA by not disclosing the reasonably segregable portions of the June 11, 2001 letter,” which was the document Palazzo was requesting. The attorney general’s office allowed the town 10 business days from the date of the finding (Feb. 15) to respond to Palazzo
However, according to West Warwick Town Solicitor Tim Williamson, the situation is more complex…
Williamson said, even though Pezza stated that the person was a town employee, he is not. Williamson said the person was not paid by the town and did not receive town benefits, but he is taking part in the town pension plan. He said the person has been enrolled in the pension system since 1987, and was an employee of the town in 1991 and 1992, but is not a current employee of the town.
Is it common practice to let non-town employees participate in town pension plans? If so, I may head down to city hall and see if I can find a good deal for myself.
Mr. Williamson and Mr. Pezza obviously aren’t on the same page, but their common position seems to be that it is possible for someone to be considered a town employee for purposes of participating in a pension plan, but not considered a town employee with respect to public scrutiny laws. That’s nuts, even by West Warwick standards.
Anyway, where we are now, apparently, is with the West Warwick Town Clerk saying he doesn’t have to go along with the law or with what the Attorney General has said (i.e. release the records)…
Yesterday, Palazzo received a letter from Town Clerk David D. Clayton. It read, “Please be advised that the Town of West Warwick will, at this time, be holding in abeyance the above referenced opinion from the Rhode Island Attorney General.”
The Kent County Times editorializes on the subject here.

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17 years ago

Note to CAM: Better watch out — i’m right behind you on the way down to city hall! i want my sweet taxpayer pension too!
Note to the Kent County Daily Times: Grow a pair.

17 years ago

This is outrageous.

17 years ago

Obeying the law seems like a strictly optional thing in West Warwick.
It’s the home of Timmy “head through a window” Williamson and the scene of Senate President Joseph Montalbano’s “missing” $86,000 (speaking of missing, should we send out the St. Bernards? has anyone seen Joey recently?). It’s where the building inspector wears a wire for … gosh, no reason in particular and where Steve “First Amendment” Alves is sitting in his basement waiting to be taken away in shackles for his hijinks at USB Paine Webber. Quite a town, quite a town.

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