Re: A Whiff of Sanity

The question of public pensions can lead quickly to basic premises. Consider a comment from Joe Bernstein:

DISCLAIMER:I am a friend of Barney Prignano and worked in the SIB squad from 1990-94 when he supervised that group. I was one of two Federal agents assigned there.
Forget who lost their pension here and think about the dangerous precedent it sets.
Now a person who retires can be brought before the Retirement Board at a subsequent time and be accused of “dishonorable” service and lose their pension. Based on what? You tell me. A conviction is no longer the standard.
Can’t anyone here who’s gloating understand how this can be used by vindictive politicians to go after people they didn’t like and if not revoke their pensions, at least put them through legal expense and misery?
In the case of the Parks Dept. employee I agree with the decision because even though nolo/probation on a felony is not a conviction in RI, the Federal courts have held that it can be used as a conviction in federal proceedings. The case was a RI one, US vs.Bustamante where Judge Pettine was reversed by the First Circuit. It involved ATF charging a man with firearms possession by a convicted felon. Oscar Bustamante couldn’t appeal it to SCOTUS because he died soon after the decision (gunshot wound). We in the INS used the decision to arrest and deport hundreds of permanent residents.The first arrest pursuant to the decision: Pedro Bustamante, Oscar’s brother. Nice guy – he shot up an apartment house with a 45 ACP carbine, barely missing some nuns and a sleeping infant. It was a pleasure to “knock”on his door.

Note that Joe is willing to admit proof of misconduct that falls short of a job-related conviction, which is precisely in line with my stated opinion. But he goes farther, arguing that, because of their subservience to political process, public-sector employees’ pensions should be considered, essentially, a right revocable only in conjunction with prosecutable crimes. Like private-sector employees (who rarely receive pensions in the first place, anymore) public-sector employees must abide by the rules that their employers establish, within the law, of course, but the latter also may utilize the political process to make the organizations for which they work subservient to them.
Joe wants it both ways: It is because government “service” is open to the political process that it is open to the manipulations and disregard of market forces that have granted public sector employees such comparably fantastic remuneration. As a matter of fairness, it cannot also be that those politically procured gains are protected from the political process when it brings less friendly managers into the equation.
Look, no pensioner should be barred from legal recourse against arbitrary actions by a pension board. Beyond that, one would hope that capricious political appointees or elected officials would open themselves to attack from political opposition and electors on that basis.

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joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

The Federal system and the NY State system in which I started did not make “political”appointments to civil service jobs.I took tests for both and no answers were supplied.I didn’t have to “know”anyone in either jurisdiction.
In NY state the test results were published in two different civil service newspapers.
I like an honest system.I never feared post retirement retribution in the Federal system and have directly confronted the former INS commissioner at Brown University.I wasn’t worried about my pension.
If you had bothered to do any research before holding forth,you’d have discovered the Federal pension system only applies to pre-1984 hires.Those hired after are largely dependent on Social Security/401(k).
My concern is Rhode Island where no civil service appointment,whether a tested position ot not,is free from political influence.It is a thoroughly rotten system,both state and local.
That is why I think this decision will put people at risk of losing their pensions who haven’t done anything dishonorable,maybe just pissed off a miserable little twit like David Cicilline.
Unlike local police and fire,etc.Federal employees were prohibited from taking any outside employment on the side and from engaging in political activity(Hatch Act) so I won’t apologize for my pension.That was the system in effect at the time.My pension is ok,but hardly as lucrative as some state and local pensions.And get this-we pay the same for health insurance that we did on the job.We NEVER got it for the bubble like state/local employees.
Don’t try painting me as a political hack,because I’ll call you out on it real fast.
My purpose in that post was to illustrate the potential dangers to honest employees.
Look at Bob Perkins in the Providence School Dept. right now for an example of the Cicilline machine in action.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Joe,
I don’t know why you think I was suggesting that you’re a political hack or that you think your testimony with regard to federal employment contradicts what I’ve said.
You’re entirely correct that Rhode Island’s is “a thoroughly rotten system,” which is why it would be ludicrous to protect those who benefit from its rottenness to also suffer by its rottenness. What incentive would they have to correct the system if it is designed in a way that prevents its errors from harming them?
P.S. — Public employment doesn’t have to be a matter of “political appointments” for employees to utilize the political process in their favor. If a party tends to favor generous deals, then the employees can vote to elect members of that party. In the local venue, unions can work to elect the very people with whom they’ll be negotiating for contracts. That doesn’t mean that a policeman, teacher, or clerk received his or her job as a political favor or for any other reason than merit, but it does mean that they have a level of opportunity for political action that private-sector employees lack.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

I remember Jimmy Carter giving Federal employees a 10% pay bump for 1980.i voted for Reagan anyway.He couldn’t buy my vote.I fear that reforming civil service in RI is harder than reforming health care.
I guess I misinterpreted what you wrote to some degree.
The current hiring practices for Providence PD don’t seem a great leap away from promotions under Prignano,but the Urinal lets the little puke Cicilline skate on it.Amazing.

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