West Warwick Disability Pensions: Questions Asked of the Pension Board and the Troubling Or Non-Responsive Answers
The news has now broken that not only is the West Warwick pension system in deep trouble but that it may well drag the entire city over the receivership cliff. This would be a good point, accordingly, to post the e-mail exchange between myself and the WW Pension Board of six months ago. (My questions were asked pursuant to Rhode Island’s Open Records law.)
1.) What percentage of all West Warwick pensions are disability (versus ordinary retirement)?
With respect to your request for information #1 concerning a breakdown of the types of pensions within the Town’s Pension Plans covering Police Officers, Firefighters, and Municipal Employees, there are presently 319 retirees covered by the Plans, of which 262 are service retirement pensions, 51 are accidental disability pensions, and 6 are non-accidental/ordinary disability pensions. Thus, 17.8% of the total number of pensions covered by the Plans are disability pensions (i.e. 57 of 319 pensions).
2.) Regarding disability pensions, what is the percentage breakdown between physical and psychological?
With respect to your request for information #2 concerning a breakdown of the percentage of physical versus psychological disability pensions within the Town’s Pension Plans (i.e. of the 57 disability pensions), please be advised that your request is hereby denied as it seeks information exempted from disclosure by the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act.
Specifically, the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act, in Rhode Island General Laws §38-2-2(4)(i)(A)(I), states that the following categories of records (i.e. information) are not deemed to be “public records” (with emphases added):
“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…”
Because the information that you have requested through your request for information #2 concerning a breakdown of the percentage of physical versus psychological disability pensions within the Town’s Pension Plans could be “…identifiable to an individual applicant for benefits…”, pertains to “medical treatment”, and constitutes “…personal or medical information relating to an individual in any files, including information relating to medical or psychological facts…”, such information is deemed covered by the exempted categories of information listed above, and your request must be denied.
Moreover, your request must also be denied because, in the Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General’s opinions in Palazzo v. Town of West Warwick, (PR 07-01; 2/15/07) and Finnegan v. Scituate Police Department, (PR 96-10B), the Attorney General’s Office ruled that the type of information you are seeking with regard to the Town of West Warwick Pension Plans is also not covered by the otherwise broad provisions set forth in Rhode Island General Laws §38-2-2(4)(i)(A)(II) of the APRA.
Pursuant to the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act you have the right to appeal this denial to the Chief Administrative Officer of the Town of West Warwick.
3.) Once a disability pension is granted, does West Warwick have a re-certification process? Is the disabled retiree required to prove that s/he is still disabled? If so, what is required of the retiree and how often must it be carried out? i.e., once a year, once every two years?
4.) Has West Warwick observed the requirements of its own re-certification process? When were disability pensions last re-certified?
With respect to your requests for information #3 and #4 concerning the Pension Plan disability pension recertification process, the Pension Plans provide for a so-called “medical disability recertification process” under which the Pension Board may require those disability pensioners who have not yet attained the age and/or date of “normal retirement” under the Plans to be examined by a Board-appointed physician (i.e. paid for from Pension Plan assets) to determine if the pensioner is still disabled from performing his/her previous employment with the Town. However, the Pension Plans do not mandate that the “medical disability recertification process” be utilized, and do not provide specific required time intervals between medical recertification examinations. The Pension Board has in the past several years utilized the medical recertification process on a random basis for some eligible disability pensioners.