March 17, 2009

Chaos in Cranston

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last evening, the finance committee of the Cranston City Council voted to table the contract negotiated by Mayor Allan Fung with the International Brotherhood of Policemen's Local 301.

According to Mayor Fung, the contract would have saved the city approximately $1.4 million dollars over three years through measures that include not filling vacancies, implementing an 18-month pay freeze, implementing a gradual increase in employee healthcare co-share, eventually to 15%, and exchanging holiday pay for comp time.

  • Mayor Allan Fung presents the contract, Part I
  • Mayor Fung presents the contract, Part II
  • Local 301 President Steven Antonucci speaks in favor of the contract.
  • Steve Bloom, former independent City Council candidate, tells the council either approve this contract, or tell the Mayor an exact figure he needs to try to save.
Several different lines of reasoning were offered over the course of the evening by the finance committee members for their decision not to approve the contract.
  1. A large percentage of the amount saved would come from not filling police department vacancies, but the positions would still exist. Some committee members were concerned that this could trigger a sudden increase in expenses in the future, if the positions are eventually required to be filled. Mayor Fung says in the absence of this agreement, he could be required to budget and fill those positions immediately. (Mayor Fung and Finance Committee Chairman Emilio Navarro discuss the vacancy situation).
  2. Multiple members of the committee seemed to believe that, no matter what else was conceded by the union, the police should be required to pay a 20% co-share for their healthcare. Mayor Fung's response was that a) the value of the negotiated concessions is about equivalent to what a 20% co-share would save and b) based on what comparable communities are paying, if this issue is arbitrated instead of negotiated, it is unlikely that the city will get 20% (City Council President John Lanni, Mayor Fung, and Finance Chair Navarro on co-shares, savings and other contracts).
  3. The contract is automatically reopened, in the event the state requires a 20% co-share in all municipal contracts. The committee was concerned this created too much ambiguity to allow a decision to be made now.
But in the end, the finance committee's collective reasoning boils down to the council not accepting any ol' savings in a contract, but instead demanding the 20% co-share no matter what else is offered by the union and hoping the Mayor will take the blame if there is an impasse, now that there's a Republican in the Mayor's office. I think the Dems on the council think that this is clever politics. We'll see what the public thinks.

Finally, if there is one thing that this meeting made absolutely clear, it is that tentative contracts need to be made available to the public for a reasonable period of time before they are voted on. I know that Rhode Island public employee union members sometime perceive this idea to be anti-union, but last night's meeting showed how it is not.

Allow me to defend that proposition by posing a question and by inviting anyone who attended last night's meeting to offer their take in the comments section: Which of the following options do you believe would best serve the cause of explaining the positions on all sides of a contract negotiation to the general public…

  • Posting contracts in some kind of public forum, where questions and answers from knowledgable people could be exchanged for a week or two before a vote, or
  • Trapping people in a room with Cranston City Council members, then disallowing them from discussing anything important until Councilmen like John Lanni and Anthony Lupino spend nearly an hour confusing themselves about how "special details" work, and then expecting the Councilmen to be able to understand that issue, all of the other contract issues AND be able to explain it all to their constituents?

I submit that, with direct access to information and a little time to process it, the public will be able to determine what's reasonable and what's not, much faster than this Cranston City Council ever will.

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Unfortunately, the Cranston School Committee was also meeting at the same time and there was an agenda item regarding our school, so I arrived to the Council meeting extremely late. A couple of items...

* Are there political agendas involved here? Maybe. But I would go out on a limb and say that if this was a Republican council demanding 20% health care co-shares, you would be applauding their efforts, not questioning their motives. Don't let the party affiliation cloud the fact that the finance committee is demanding tangible savings, and rightly so. There are a lot of unknowns and deferrals in the contract being presented.

* This contract is going to set the stage for all of the others that are coming up this year and next year, including the teachers who are involved in mediation. It is very important to get this one right.

* It is my understanding there is a stipulation in the contract that if the city, by some miracle finds a surplus, the contract gets reopened. God forbid the city finds extra money in the coffers that would allow the restoration of some services that are sure to be cut. No, that money should be renegotiated to the police union.

* Finally, I would love to have the tentative agreements be made available to the public.

No one is denying the professionalism and hard work of the Cranston Police Dept. They do an excellent job protecting our city, and when times are good, they should be rewarded. But now isn't the time for increases. The mid-year pay increase in year two of the contract should be 0%. I'd even offer it should be the same for year three. But maybe the contract should be 2 years and then see if there is any sort of recovery occurring that would allow pay increases in a new contract.

Posted by: Donald Botts at March 17, 2009 11:57 AM

I wondered about that too, Donald.
I'll make a guess about an agenda at play here: Fung appears to have allied himself with his fellow GOP mayor next door, and we all know what high esteem Avedesian is held in here LOL. Fung also put some distance between himself and Laffey this time around - if he had done that two years ago, he'd probably be on his second term.

Posted by: rhody at March 17, 2009 12:54 PM

what a bunch of nonsense

this the same city council that voted a few months ago for a laborers agreement that did NOT have 20% co-share for ALL laborers

this the same city council that voted in the summer of 07 for that absurd firefighters contract which had all those give aways and a coshare of about 5%

Also, Fung got alot more from the cranston police than the giveaway mayor in warwick did from warwick cops.

This is just petty politics.

Posted by: Cranston Demos are jokes at March 17, 2009 1:53 PM


The skepticism about the council adopting the 20%-or-bust line comes from the fact that, as recently as December, the council approved a contract that only applied the 20% co-share to employees hired after a certain date. That's not 20% across the board.
And the 12 month salary freeze in the December contract was shorter than the 18 month freeze in the police contract.

What could it be that's changed the council's attitude since December?

Posted by: Andrew at March 17, 2009 2:17 PM

"the finance committee's collective reasoning boils down to the council not accepting any ol' savings in a contract, but instead demanding the 20% co-share no matter what else is offered by the union and hoping the Mayor will take the blame if there is an impasse, now that there's a Republican in the Mayor's office."

What matters is that everyone is participating in a helpful and productive manner and not taking stances for political reasons because, of course, that would only drag down the process ...

Posted by: Monique at March 17, 2009 2:33 PM

The change is that it is a different city council. There are four new members, as well as a new council president and finance committee chairman. It is possible that these differences are at the root of the change in direction. We saw this during the business license debate where there was a split council and the resolution didn't pass.

Everyone keeps throwing out that in these bad times, there is the chance for opportunity. Well, here it is. Make fundamental changes to the union contracts that will allow the city some relief when crafting future budgets. Don't take the easy way out with deferrals and anticipated savings. Go for something tangible. I applaud the finance committee, in this instance, for insisting on the 20%.

Posted by: Donald Botts at March 17, 2009 2:39 PM

Mr. Botts,

We know you are close to Councilman Navarro, having run his re-election campaign, but this is just silly:

"* This contract is going to set the stage for all of the others that are coming up this year and next year, including the teachers who are involved in mediation. It is very important to get this one right."

The stage has already been set, my friend, by your boy and the others on last year's council when they approved the fireman contract. Do they think that their decisions can be compartmentalized and nobody notices their screw up? That they can say, "but that was then and this is now."

Actions have consequences, Mr. Botts, and your boy looks foolish trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Posted by: oz at March 17, 2009 5:22 PM

I see. So, as long as it is Republicans demanding fiscal restraint, it is OK. If it is a Democratically controlled council, it is political ploys.

Ever the fatalist JB.

Posted by: Donald Botts at March 17, 2009 6:12 PM

I judge incumbent politicians from both parties on their past actions, not their posturing.

If they have a history of spending taxpayer money foolishly (fireman contract, teacher contract, fake grass, repairing personal vehicles, etc.) then I have no reason to believe their intentions are anything but a political ploy.

Posted by: oz at March 17, 2009 6:57 PM

While the council may well be hypocritical scum, any mayor agreeing to anything less than 20% for ALL employees deserves a big "boo".
That's Fung, that's Scotty, that's Charlie the "hero", the Fat Sissy, Polisena and everyone else.
I won't even mention (OK-I will!) that Cranston has roughly twice as many cops and firemen per capita as the national average.
Mass layoffs are in order. You notice how FR and NB just did it and the world didn't stop turning.

Posted by: Mike at March 17, 2009 8:05 PM


Three quick points:

1. Councilmen Navarro, Livingston and Lupino and all voted for the LIUNA contract in December and all supported tabling the police contract last night, so the change in composition argument doesn’t really fly.

2. It's not a "fundamental change" to say there should be a 20% co-share, when there's a 10%-15% co-share already on the table, it's just a change to program numbers already in place. Are there other "fundamental changes" that the council has in mind, that they apparently forgot to disclose last night?

3. From what I gathered from the Mayor's presentation, it's not really accurate to describe most (if any) of the savings over the next three years as the result of deferrals. The positions being left vacant won't have to be paid for the time they are vacant, and the holiday pay is (was?) being exchanged for comp time, not for payment in the future.

Posted by: Andrew at March 17, 2009 9:23 PM

Ok Jeff, lets judge you on your past actions:

But even some fellow Republicans say they were uncomfortable with the level of Fung’s support for the mayor.

Republican City Councilman Jeffrey P. Barone, who is estranged from the city’s GOP, said he “butted heads a lot” with Fung when the pair served on the council because Barone was “not a strong backer of Laffey.”

And Barone suggested that Fung’s association with the former mayor could hurt him this fall.

You call me out being a "boy" of Emilio Navarro, but you don't even support your own party. Could you have thrown Allan any more under the bus? Bitter much?

Posted by: Donald Botts at March 17, 2009 9:48 PM

Andrew, to address your points:

1. I will agree with you there. I didn't support the contract and voiced my opinion as such. I stated that the council should be operating under the assumption that the city is in a deficit. And this was before the Governor announced his cuts to state aid for cities and towns.

2. I have heard that the city council is suggesting that the school committee seek 20% co-share for the teachers in the current contract negotiations. This should be a uniform requirement across all bargaining units in the city.

3. I can't address this point, since I was late. But making the tentative agreement public would help to resolve any reservations regarding what may be perceived deferrals.

Posted by: Donald Botts at March 17, 2009 10:08 PM

Donald, (If I may call you that)

I may be many things, but I'm not Jeff Barone.

And I support a 20% co-share for all city employees. In those cases where conditions are such that 20% can be realized immediately, then the city should grab it and go.

In the case of the police contract, there are mitigating circumstances. Have you thought about those 5 vacancies? It's a bargaining chip for the union. If you demand 20%, they'll file a grievance that those positions need to be filled according to the existing contract (yes, it's expired, but the terms continue) and the city will lose. So that's 5 more positions totaling at least $250,000 in just salary and benefits (this year - FY09, with more every subsequent year) to get your 20% (which Mr. Navarro pegs the cost savings compared to Fung's contract at just $3,362.)

So by all means stand firm with your friend Mr. Navarro, and demand 20% co-shares from the police union to save $3,362. Ignore the $250,000 in current year savings that is on the line, ignore that an arbitrated contract will cost us much more than Fung's, ignore every other concession made by the union - concessions that total $1.39 Million for the contract term.

Every union in this city knows they are going to 20% healthcare co-share sooner or later. Fung is getting the police union to 16% now and setting the stage for 20% or more in the next contract, while extracting meaningful concessions that result in real dollars now and in the future.

That's why I'm calling you out. You have the right idea, and I support your push for fundamental contract reform, but you're not seeing the big picture in the case of the police contract.

Posted by: oz at March 18, 2009 8:03 AM

My apologies to you and Mr. Barone. You have a very similar tone in your posts.

Posted by: Donald Botts at March 18, 2009 8:36 AM

Good Morning,

Just a clarification in case anyone may be misled; I hope you guys don’t think I am the author of the comments made by “JB” Although I may have had a falling out with The Cranston Republican City Committee after I was thrown under the bus, I will continue to support them and continue to support Mayor Fung. I also may not agree with the contract in question and feel very strong that it is not as good a contract as the Fire Fighters. Please go on the city’s web site and read the red line version. Ask yourself why were there a lot of changes in the language made from “may to shall? Also, someone please ask how many comp hours are received for every holiday given up, I believe you will be astonished.

But, the reason for this entry is to assure the readers that I am not JB. Thank you for understanding and be well.

Councilman Barone

Posted by: Councilman Barone at March 19, 2009 8:49 AM

As I said Jeff, I apologize for the mis-identification.

Posted by: Donald Botts at March 19, 2009 9:17 AM

No problem Mr. Botts and thank for the reply.

Posted by: Councilman Barone at March 19, 2009 9:23 AM

That's what I get for posting on the evening of St. Patrick's Day. Clouded judgement.

The common themes with many of the city's contracts is everything gets pushed to the third year. Raises, allowances, etc. all return in year 3, like the city is going to have new found money. And then, the 10 vacancies will need to be filled about expiration of the contract. The savings in this contract seem to be temporary. We need to go for ongoing savings.

I hope people realize that if you think this year is going to be hard, wait until next year and the $580 million dollar state deficit, and zero aid to cities and towns, along with further reduction of tax revenues. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Posted by: Donald Botts at March 19, 2009 9:34 AM


There is no retroactive compensation associated with the 18-month pay freeze. Saying that returning to a reasonable schedule of raises is pushing things to the third year doesn't make sense, unless your baseline is a permanent end to raises for public safety personnel. Is that the "fundamental change" that the Democrats on this council are looking for?

And I would suggest that eliminating positions that have been left vacant for several years, in an environment where city government and the police department are able to come to negotiated solutions, will probably be easier than eliminating 5 vacant positions (which may not be vacant by the end of the month) and demanding 5 other layoffs over 3 years in a litigated process. From a fiscal standpoint there's no difference in savings over the next three years from positions being left vacant versus positions being eliminated, and the Council will be no more or less constrained than it is now on the subject of vacancies when it deals with the next contract.

The Finance Committee's expressed reasoning for not approving the contract makes no sense.

Posted by: Andrew at March 19, 2009 10:25 AM


The police union is letting the mayor defer filling 5 current vacancies through FY11- salary and benes which cost $777,931, in todays dollars. On top of that the union is letting the mayor defer 5 potential vacancies if 5 PO retire in FY10 thru FY11- salary and benes total $665,922, in todays dollars. After figuring in a $250,000 severance for the 5 retirees, the net total savings is 1.2mil. 1.2mil of the 1.4 mil saving the mayor is claiming he is saving the taxpayer in "real concessions" is by deferring 10 vacancies for the union. I don't consider agreeing to not filling vacancies as real concessions. Do you? Which by the way only leaves a real dollar saving of $67,000/year for the taxpayer. But wait....there's more! At the end of FY11 the city has to fill all 10 vacancies at a higher rate. Somehow, I don't see how this is good for the taxpayer if the mayor agreed to an automatic hiring clause at the end of the contract.

Here is a copy of the vacancy clause I grabbed on the city website. Maybe this is the reason why the finance committee wasn't willing to take the bait on the 1.6 mil, I mean the 1.4 mil savings and rush this through.

Explain the logic behind this:

A. Vacancies in patrol and officer’s ranks shall be filled within twenty-five (25) days after the vacancy occurs, provided an eligibility list is in effect. A vacancy shall be deemed to have occurred on the day following an employee’s removal from the payroll.

B. Notwithstanding the language of subsection A), the City shall have the unilateral right to maintain five (5) vacancies during the time period of February 1, 2009 to June 30, 2009, and a minimum of five (5) vacancies and a maximum of ten (10) vacancies for the time period of July 1, 2009 through June 29, 2011. All promotions will continue to be made as vacancies in ranks occur. Thereafter, vacancies shall be filled in accordance with the provisions of subsection A) above, meaning beginning June 30, 2011 all vacancies in patrol and officer’s ranks shall be filled within twenty-five (25) days after the vacancy occurs.


Posted by: Devil is in the details at March 19, 2009 8:03 PM


Vacancies 6 through 10 definitely count as savings from whenever they become vacant to the end of the contract. Whether you're not paying someone because the position is vacant or because the position doesn't exist, the money is still not spent.

Whether to count vacancies 1 through 5 as savings depends on how long the positions have been vacant -- if they've already been vacant for multiple years prior to this contract year, then the fact that they are vacant shouldn't be counted as savings and should be considered part of the baseline. If, on the other hand, the positions were recently vacated, and the Mayor and the union reach a deal not to fill them, then they count as savings for the next three years, just like they would if the positions were eliminated.

The fact that the city is "required" to be filled technically has limited impact, because it doesn't take effect until the next contract term begins, correct? That gives city-hall and the police union three years to decide what to do about them. I'd be willing to wager (for entertainment purposes only, in case any police officers are reading this) that that provision is in the contract mostly as a bargaining chip for the next contract. But it going to be a lot less contentious to eliminate vacant positions than it is to eliminate filled ones.

For those of us standing on the outside, if looks as if maybe we're moving in a rational way towards a force reduction, without creating a lot of acrimony. Or maybe we discover in three years that we can't live with 10 fewer officers. Either way, the savings over the three year period will be on the books at that point, there will be no deferred compensation to be paid out as a result of the vacancies, and Mayor and the council can do what's best at that point.

Two final points:

1. If the Council is looking for something greater than a 10-officer reduction in the police force, then they can make a legitimate claim that the Mayor hasn't gone far enough. Is this, perhaps, the "fundamental change" the council is looking for? If, on the other hand, the council is satisfied with the current force projection, and the Mayor is getting to that goal via negotiation without litigation, then there's no (rational) basis for complaint.

2. The underlying rationale put forth by Democrats for voting for Democrats like Michael Napolitano and Cindy Fogarty has been that Democrats can get the job done and protect the taxpayers, but without the contentiousness that the Republicans bring. These events are showing that Cranston Dems can't really do either.

Posted by: Andrew at March 20, 2009 10:26 AM

The logic behind the section quoted is that an unfilled vacancy really is a concession, as the union could force the issue in court and will win (as the previous contract is still in effect.) It's called contract law.

What I can't figure out is why there is so much animosity toward the Police department. Back in 2003, an analysis was done on the Police and Fire departments, and according to the data culled from similar cities, Cranston has too few Police Officers (by about 15, or 8%) and too many Firemen (by about 85, or 42%.) See and

So given that we are below average in Police personnel, I have no problem with recognizing an unfilled vacancy as the concession that it is and realizing the savings, and furthermore, agreeing to perhaps increase staffing levels in the future. Even if we add the 5 to 10 positions back in 2011, which I don't necessarily read into that language, we are still below average in police staffing compared to other cities our size.

If the Council really were focused on "fairness" then they wouldn't have voted for the Fire contract and wouldn't be ripping the Police contract.

This Council cannot, or will not, see the big picture. Either way, we're getting screwed.

Posted by: oz at March 20, 2009 2:04 PM


Who's getting screwed? The taxpayer? The Council does see the big picture and is asking all the necessary questions in making sure that we, the taxpayers, are not getting screwed.

In these extraordinary tough financial times, we have municipalities laying off police and fire personnal because of deficits cities and towns are facing and you think the "union could force the issue in court" to make a city hire 5 more employees and they "will win." So what you are saying is that the Mayor is giving in to the union and conceding management rights. Why should the union determine if the city needs to hire. In fact, just recently there were 10 vacancies but in 2008 the city hired 5 new police officers bringing the city to 148 out of the full 153 full complement.

As for an audit you mention, (might be the same one the Mayor referenced in the paper), I cant put too much weight on an analysis done on our police dept from 2003. That information is six years old, but maybe the city council should consider getting a new analysis done from an independant consultant to go over the organizational changes in the new contract and see if those changes make sense. Why should the taxpayers depend on an audit done six years ago.

Lastly, I dont see the revelance of the previous council's vote on fire contract that took place 2 years ago to the merits of this contract.


Posted by: Devil is in the details at March 20, 2009 5:53 PM
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