— West Warwick —

October 4, 2012

Things We Read Today (24), Thursday

Justin Katz

West Warwick for all; the essence of education reform; declines in people births; declines in business births; the easy street to dependency.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

May 8, 2012

West Warwick Disability Pensions: Questions Asked of the Pension Board and the Troubling Or Non-Responsive Answers

Monique Chartier

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.

February 20, 2012

Nine Years Ago Tonight

Patrick Laverty

Today marks nine years since The Station fire happened in West Warwick where 100 people died and many others are permanently injured both physically and mentally. With a state the size of Rhode Island, it seems that everyone knows someone that was directly affected by this tragedy. Even if you didn't know anyone affected, try to keep these people in your thoughts, so we can make sure events like this do not happen again.

Over the next year, filmmaker David Bettencourt will be putting together a documentary about The Station fire and plans to release it next year, on the 10th anniversary of the fire.

As painful as the annual articles about the fire are and what the movie might do to stir up emotions from those affected, it will be good to have the event and its toll preserved for future generations to learn from.

Nine Years Ago Tonight

Patrick Laverty

Today marks nine years since The Station fire happened in West Warwick where 100 people died and many others are permanently injured both physically and mentally. With a state the size of Rhode Island, it seems that everyone knows someone that was directly affected by this tragedy. Even if you didn't know anyone affected, try to keep these people in your thoughts, so we can make sure events like this do not happen again.

Over the next year, filmmaker David Bettencourt will be putting together a documentary about The Station fire and plans to release it next year, on the 10th anniversary of the fire.

As painful as the annual articles about the fire are and what the movie might do to stir up emotions from those affected, it will be good to have the event and its toll preserved for future generations to learn from.

January 28, 2011

"Surplus" Just Means They Haven't Spent It, Yet

Justin Katz

Gary Trott tries to apply too much common sense to public-sector budgeting:

What should a Rhode Island city or town do if it suddenly finds itself with a surplus of unspent funds amounting to nearly $6 million? You'd think that it would do the responsible thing and not spend those funds in order to ease up a little bit on the taxpayer.

Well, that's not what the School Committee in Warwick did during the final days of December when it voted unanimously to take the $6 million surplus from the previous year and spend it by giving raises to teachers and also by cutting the 20 percent contribution that the teachers were to pay toward their health care benefits (ProJo 7 to 7 News Blog, Dec. 29).

The problem is that this isn't just spending for spending's sake, as Trott takes it. Rather, all of the incentives push government bodies in the direction of spending everything and, in particular, spending as much as possible on raises and benefits for employees.

Obviously, the electoral threat implicit in public-sector unionization is one incentive. So is the likelihood that unspent dollars won't just be considered a windfall to be kept, but will be targeted (rightly, in my view) both for a direct return to taxpayers and for a reduction in subsequent years' budgets. When the money isn't given freely as an economic exchange, but is taken under threat of law as taxation, the emphasis shifts from claiming as much money as a consumer can be convinced that the service is worth to providing cover for the claim that so much, and more, is needed, or even required by law. The process becomes one of budget tricks.

In Tiverton, for example, the school department claims that the town is required to make up for any difference in the amount of state aid that is estimated at the financial town meeting. (Naturally, extra aid is never reduced from the local appropriation.) So, say the local appropriation is $20 million and the FTM estimates that the schools will get $5 million in state/fed aid. If the aid comes in at $4 million, then the schools take another $1 million from the town's property tax pool.

Here's the best part: for the purposes of calculating the state-imposed cap on how much additional money it can request, the school department considers the $21 million to be part of its new baseline. It then begins the performance of declarations about what it will have to cut, close, and eliminate if the town doesn't bust the cap.

The process doesn't begin, in short, with the question of what the payer will bear, but with what the payee can take. The only way to change the incentives and the outcome would be to organize enough voters to place better candidates on the boards, councils, and committees and counterbalance the corrupt symbiosis between elected officials and labor.

May 23, 2010

A Familiar Drum

Justin Katz

I'm keeping up the posting over on the Tiverton Citizens for Change Web site, including the observation that the drum that the Tiverton School Committee beat prior to our financial town meeting are now being played in West Warwick:

Sports programs and part-time employees join the list of recommended cuts school officials hope will compensate for a $1.2-million hole in the School Department’s proposed $47.8-million budget. …

Topping the list of cuts is the closing of the Maisie E. Quinn Elementary School, a move that will save the district $750,000. …

The School Committee is still discussing this budget, Chairwoman Lindagay Palazzo said Thursday. The committee will review the proposal at the June 8 public meeting, and likely will vote to have a budget ready for the Financial Town Meeting, now scheduled for June 22.

How long, do you suppose, until parents and taxpayers learn that there's a template in play, here.

May 12, 2010

The West Warwick Investment Dance Continues

Justin Katz

By way of an update on West Warwick's current public-money scandal:

An Arizona real estate firm has offered to return $3 million to the West Warwick pension board after news of the investment — and the subsequent resignation of the board's financial consultant — triggered a barrage of criticism in recent weeks.

Cole Capital sent the offer to local officials in an e-mail on Thursday. On Friday, a national real estate consulting firm released a report reaffirming repeated concerns raised by the former consultant, P-Solve Asset Solutions, which wrote last fall: "We have rarely, if ever, seen a potential investment that is more inappropriate for an institution than this one."

The people of West Warwick — of all of Rhode Island — should remember that if you keep electing the same sorts of people, you're going to keep getting the same results.

April 25, 2010

Re: Familiar Names, Familiar Practices

Monique Chartier

One of the more alarming aspects of the new revelations about the West Warwick pension fund is the lamentation by the Pension Board Chairman, Geoffrey E. Rousselle, that sunshine has been thrown on the matter.

He suggested that the dispute should not have turned public.

“It upsets me,” Rousselle said. “I don’t know how that memo was leaked. It should have stayed within the board.”

Sir, perhaps I can explain. This is a pool of public dollars. Further, it is a pool of public dollars to be used to fund an investment upon which retired public employees count for their pension. Complicating matters, out of that (limited!) pool of dollars has been paid an unusually high (to say no more) fee for investment in an instrument that an investment professional strongly advised against and about which board members are gravely misinformed.

“It was a 7-percent guaranteed return,” Rousselle said. “They promised us 7 percent.”

A Cole representative declined to comment on the investment. But documents released by the company make clear that there is no such guarantee.

If all of this still doesn't strike a chord with you, well, you're just going to have to take our word. Scrutiny by the press and by the public into this matter is most certainly warranted.

February 17, 2010

Trading Schools for Raises

Justin Katz

The Newport Daily News isn't very friendly about putting information online, so I don't have a link to the story, but I read this weekend that the Tiverton School Committee is floating the idea of closing the town's high school. In hopes of saving $450,000, as I recall, the town would either send its students elsewhere or bring in a charter school company to run things.

Meanwhile, in West Warwick, closure of an elementary school is expected to save $750,000, with the students dispersed to other schools and fifth graders heading to middle school. A reader emails:

So you are looking at placing 10 and 11 yr olds with potentially 15 y/o kids in the middle school. It gets even worse, its one thing to save the $750,000 but to then budget $900,000 in Teacher Step raises is mind boggling. Closing a school to fund Teacher raises, West Warwick is currently in the top 5 in salaries, with the top step at approx. 79,000 and health care contributions this year at 10% and next yr at 15%.

Here in Tiverton, the proposed increase in salaries, for next year, is $535,954. In other words, multiple Rhode Island communities are toying with the idea disrupting the lives of the students for whom they have responsibility in order to fund pay increases for well-remunerated public-sector workers in the middle of a painful recession and the economic collapse of the state. As if to add insult to injury, evidence of the quality of education in the state continues to be negative, such as this from the Providence Business News:

According to the College Board, 1,766 students in Rhode Island's class of 2009, or 17.3 percent of the class, took at least one A.P. exam during high school, compared with 26.5 percent nationwide. That was up from the 1,555 students in the class of 2008 who took an A.P. test and 1,112 in the class of 2004. ...

The organization said 10.7 percent of last year's class — or 62 percent of A.P. test-takers — earned a passing score of 3, 4 or 5. That was up from the 9.5 percent who passed at least one the prior year, but lower than the 15.9 percent of students who did so nationwide.

If we're to resist the urge to let emotion run away with us, we must admit the probability that some of the school closure talk is little more than a ploy to rile the public to accept tax increases and shame the teachers' unions into accepting concessions. Even so, the current dynamic is unacceptable: that the anxieties of residents are being manipulated in an attempt to achieve the obvious and reasonable step of holding salaries flat, or even trimming them a little, for professionals who, as a group, are failing their students.

July 2, 2009

Caruolo Not a Foregone Conclusion

Justin Katz

As a threatening cudgel to wave during negotiations and town meetings — allowing school committees to declare that they'll just take what they "need" and unions contriving to force them to do so — the Caruolo Act is still an insidious force in Rhode Island politics. But with the move being denied in West Warwick, it would appear that many of us, including school committees and unions, expected it to be a bit more of a rubber stamp:

Judge Steven P. Nugent, in a ruling from the bench, dismissed the School Committee's Caruolo suit against the town, saying that school officials didn't even try to balance their fiscal 2009 budget after voters at the Financial Town Meeting limited their spending to $49.2 million — roughly $4 million less than they had requested.

Nugent said the committee had failed to heed the state law requiring that it give the town and the state auditor general a corrective action plan within five days of realizing that it would have a substantial shortfall.

Although this may be good news in the long run, in the short term for West Warwick, it will require cuts in programs and services. Plan B, in other words, will not be to tighten belts on payroll, but to limit benefits to the town and its children. And it's not as if belt tightening would be egregious. According to the district's budget plan released in March 2008 (PDF via Transparency Train), making up the $3.3 million that the district sought through Caruolo would require merely a 6.7% cut in the combined salary/benefit totals for next year's projected budget. Salary/benefits, by the way, were projected to go up 5.4%. The amount of actual cuts to current salary and benefit amounts would be approximately 1.4%.

Cry me a river.

You'll recall that the 2009-2010 school year is the so-called "fourth year" that the school committee tried to opt out of in the teachers' contract — which it was contractually permitted to do. After a few months of damaging work-to-rule by the teachers, the committee relented. The result (PDF) is that teachers' salaries are contracted as follows, with the categories after step 10 (10 years of service) incorporating longevity payments:

Step 2008-2009 2009-2010 % increase in step % increase in pay
1 $40,802 $41,822 2.5 NA
2 $44,273 $45,379 2.5 11.2
3 $47,743 $48,937 2.5 10.5
4 $51,212 $52,492 2.5 9.9
5 $54,683 $56,050 2.5 9.4
6 $58,153 $59,607 2.5 9.0
7 $61,624 $63,165 2.5 8.6
8 $65,093 $66,720 2.5 8.3
9 $68,564 $70,278 2.5 8.0
10 $72,034 $73,835 2.5 7.7
11 to 14 $72,926 $74,750 2.5 3.8
15 to 19 $73,819 $75,665 2.5 3.8
20 to 24 $74,711 $76,579 2.5 3.7
25 to 29 $75,603 $77,494 2.5 3.7
30+ $76,495 $78,409 2.5 3.7

And that's not all; extra payments for other activities are all going up, as well. Summer school will pay $42 per hour, rather than $40.50 per hour (3.7%). Substitutes will get about 4.5% more (to around $110 per day, depending on the length of the assignment). Teachers who cover other teachers' classes will see a 3.7% increase in the resulting payment, to $42. Tutors will see the same. Extracurricular pay is going up approximately 2.5%, with the student council adviser, for example, getting $2,510 rather than $2,450. The bonus payments for graduate credits and degrees are all going up — an average of 2.6% (to $4,200 for a Master's in the teacher's field).

All with a 7% share of healthcare premiums.

Little wonder the teachers were willing to damage their students' educations back in 2007! Little wonder, as well, that Rhode Island's schools are in their sorry state.

June 28, 2009

Private School as Money Saver

Justin Katz

Think about this, from amidst the continuing saga of the West Warwick school budget:

After one resident learned that it costs about $15,000 to educate each child in West Warwick, she suggested that the town simply send its students to private Catholic schools. [Town Council Member Angelo] Padula quickly agreed, saying, "If we sent 200 children to a private school, Prout is $9,500. LaSalle is $9,800. We would save $6,000 per child."

For those who've learned under new math techniques (or do not have a calculator handy), $6,000 times 200 children is $1.2 million. As a bonus, with those millions of dollars in savings, Rhode Island private school students on average score 200 points higher on the SATs than their public-school peers.

(Yeah, I'm aware of the arguments about demographics. Just sayin'...)

June 25, 2009

When Negotiators Are Using Monopoly Money

Justin Katz

Think of the attitude expressed, here, by West Warwick School Committee Chairwoman Lindagay Palazzo:

"Regardless, whether we win or lose [their Caruolo lawsuit], the town is responsible for our bills," Palazzo said. "They're going to have to pay them anyway."

One wonders what effect that point of view has on Mrs. Palazzo's negotiation tactics. One also isn't surprised to learn that she just retired (PDF) from her $80k job (PDF) as a Clinical Training Specialist with Rhode Island College's Child Welfare Institute.

Being in the public sector tends to impart the belief that somebody else has to pick up every professional bill that public "servants" manage to rack up — the racking up of which seems to become their central goal.

June 5, 2009

WW Teachers’ Alliance Takes Legal Action Against an Event that Has Not Yet Taken Place

Monique Chartier

Is this even legally feasible?

A formal complaint has been filed against the school department and the Town of West Warwick by Donald Vanasse, President of the West Warwick Teachers’ Alliance, citing an impending failure to pay accrued wages and salaries.

He has reason to believe that there will be a failure to pay the wages or salaries to WWTA members on or about June 25, 2009, Vanasse wrote in a May 22 letter addressed to Sandara M. Powell, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training/Labor Standards Unit.

This potential situation has arisen because the West Warwck Town Council has chosen to observe their state mandated role of setting the amount of funding that the school department will receive

His last direction from the council, [Town Manager James] Thomas said, is that he is not to authorize any more than the amount approved at the Financial Town Meeting in 2008

while the West Warwick School Committee has tried to expand their own role beyond writing a budget based upon a funding amount set by the Town Council.

“As we sit right now, the town doesn’t have the ability to give the school a loan for the $3.3 million that they’re asking for,” Thomas said. “It’s not the town’s responsibility. The citizens of the town on May 20, 2008 made it very clear to the superintendent that they were giving him $49 million and some change. And the school committee and [Superintendent Kenneth Sheehan] have elected to spend $53 million and some change. The responsibility rests on the superintendent to find that money.”

May 20, 2009

WW Voters to WW Budgeters: No, Thanks

Monique Chartier

Dateline: Takebackourtownville.

Taxpayers defeated the municipal budget, school budget, and voted down any tax levy with a resounding majority at the Town Financial Meeting last night.

Of the 416 voters counted by the West Warwick Board of Canvassers in a ballot vote, 333 voted against the municipal budget presented by the town council at $30,512,700, a majority in a standing vote defeated the school department budget of $49,269,685, and all but three people voted down a motion to keep the tax levy the same as it was last year.

With nearly three times the attendance of last year’s financial town meeting, the meeting began at 7 p.m. and did not let out until 10:45 p.m.

March 9, 2009

... Is Someone Looking for Solicitor Williamson's Legal Fees?

Monique Chartier

Here they are.


Budgeted for "Administration": $100,000

Paid to Inman & Tourgee: $163,387


Budgeted for "Administration": $70,000

Paid to Inman & Tourgee: $135,044


Budgeted for "Administration": $70,000

Paid to Inman & Tourgee: $150,227


Budgeted for "Administration": $75,000

Paid to Inman & Tourgee: $120,327


Budgeted for "Administration": $75,000

Paid to Inman & Tourgee: $169,174

[Article in today's ProJo.]

March 2, 2009

Okay, An Even Swap - the Pension Actuaries for the Country Club Tax Records

Monique Chartier

From Friday's Kent County Times:

On Feb. 19, [State Senator Michael] Pinga requested the tax records of the West Warwick Country Club, which Jim Williamson is co-owner of. Pinga said he did so because “someone,” who he said he would not identify, “notified me that he [Jim Williamson] received a tax abatement and I want to see if he went through the proper procedure.”

“I think this is important because everyone else has to go through the procedure and I want to make sure that he did too,” Pinga said.

Senator Pinga may be a tad suspicious that the process was telescoped for Jim Williamson because he is the brother of Timothy Williamson. Mr. Timothy Williamson is both a House Representative and Town Solicitor for West Warwick.

In a separate matter, Timothy Williamson, in his capacity as a House Representative, has repeatedly

refused to make public a letter summarizing the findings of the state-paid [pension] actuaries at Gabriel Roeder Smith & Co., and the methodology they used to arrive at their conclusions.


Williamson asserted that the letter, which the actuaries had in front of them as they testified at last night’s televised State House meeting, had been written to him personally, in his role as chairman of the commission, and so it was not public.

Written to him "personally"? Hoo, ha! Good one. Sign this man up to write for next year's Follies.

Ya know what? Cancel the swap. Both documents pertain to public monies and public business. Make them both public.

February 18, 2009

West Warwick Teacher Layoffs

Marc Comtois

In the ProJo story about West Warwick handing out 188 layoff notices (wow!), there was this little nugget:

State law requires that teachers be notified by March 1 that they will no longer have jobs the following September, and many school districts routinely send out pink slips by the deadline while acknowledging that most, if not all, of them will not actually be exercised.

But West Warwick has not sent out such notices in 17 years, and officials said that at least 30 of the 188 teachers targeted for the notices this year are likely to be let go.

A no-layoffs clause in the district’s contract with the West Warwick Teachers Alliance was modified last September to allow layoffs under circumstances that include “uncertainty or lack of funding in programs and /or positions that are totally supported by federal or state funds.” {Emphasis added}.

Is it any wonder we find ourselves where we are now, with School Committees bargaining away management rights to the extent that they even gave up their ability to lay-off employees?

February 9, 2009

A Cause of This Effect

Justin Katz

Things don't look good in West Warwick:

There are no solutions to their immediate fiscal problem. In fact, their current deficit is projected to balloon into a $10-million deficit in the years ahead if nothing is done.

So school officials have worked "seven days a week" to come up with a three-year plan that would gradually wipe out the growing deficit.

It requires a supplemental tax hike in the current year to raise an additional $2-million. In future years, a hodge-podge of reductions, from health-insurance savings to staff cuts and eliminating sports, would gradually wipe out the deficit. It would only work with substantial union givebacks, they say.

Conspicuously absent from the story is a recollection of the work-to-rule action back in late 2007. The school committee, if you'll recall, had followed the appropriate procedure to opt out of the last year of the contract, which would have left it up for negotiation after this school year. Witnessing the damage that the teachers were doing, however, the committee backed down and extended the contract through next year:

The next day [after the school committee's vote not to extend the contract], the union announced it would take a "work to contract" stance that discouraged teachers from performing any duties not explicitly required by the contract. Union members began sporting pins that proclaimed "We Keep Our Promises," and let their actions speak for themselves.

As the school year got under way, the resignations rolled in, affecting classrooms at all grade levels. Field trips and teacher participation in the school-improvement and teacher-support teams halted districtwide. At the elementary level, there were no yearbook advisers, book fairs, learning walks or teacher involvement in fundraising. Teachers shunned a Saturday-school program. The National Junior Honor Society adviser at Deering Middle School resigned as well.

Advisers for the French, Italian and Spanish clubs at West Warwick High School resigned, as did the summer school director, Academic Decathlon adviser and the credit-retrieval program coordinator. The band and choral calendars were scant. Community members and school administrators stepped in to fill vacancies, chaperoning school dances and volunteering to lead summer school programs.

And now the union has the upper hand as the town struggles and tears itself apart trying to balance its budget. The well-paid grownups got theirs, and now the question is how much they'll deign to help the givers.

February 4, 2009

Town Manager v. School Committee in West Warwick

Carroll Andrew Morse

Paul Mueller of WLNE-TV (ABC 6) is reporting that the West Warwick Town Council has voted to have the Town Manager "take over" reconciliation of the school committee's budget deficit...

ABC 6 Reporter Paul Mueller: A town council meeting, packed with hundreds of West Warwick residents and teachers, searching for answers to help fix their financial woes…

West Warwick Town Manager James Thomas: In my 25 years, I have never seen a school district so dysfunctional from the financial side.

PM: Town Manager James Thomas, moments after the West Warwick Town Council gives him the nod to take over the entire school district's finances and take the steps he deems as necessary – only if approved by the council. The reason, he says: school superintendent Kenneth Sheehan is breaking state law.

JT: After the financial town meeting, if your budget is out of balance, within 30 days, you have to submit a revised budget. He has not done that.

However, the Projo's Lisa Vernon-Sparks writes in today's paper that the action by the West Warwick Town Council was something significantly less than a "takeover"…
After protracted and sometimes heated debate, the Town Council last night rejected Town Manager James H. Thomas’ request that he be authorized to take full control of the School Department’s finances.

Instead, the council — meeting before more than 300 residents in the West Warwick High School auditorium — passed a resolution encouraging him to pursue in-depth discussions with the school board and top administrators in an effort to produce meaningful budget savings.

An earlier item by Ms. Vernon-Sparks makes reference to Section 508 of the West Warwick Town Charter as the basis of the Town Manager's and/or Council's rationale for their action, whether that action is a "takeover", "discussions" or something in-between…
The budget of the Town of West Warwick shall be balanced for each fiscal year so that total expenditures shall not be greater than total receipts. If any time during the fiscal year the town manager shall determine that actual revenue receipts will not equal the original estimates upon which the budget was based, the town manager, for purpose of maintaining a balanced budget, shall recommend to the town council such reductions or suspension in the appropriations for any or all departments, offices or other agencies of the town government as will, in the town manager's opinion, prevent the occurrence of a deficit. However, there shall be no reductions or appropriations for the town debt payments or the retirement fund or lease purchasing contractual obligations to balance the town budget. The town council shall by ordinance either approve the same in whole or part or make such other reductions or suspensions in total equal to that proposed by the town manager as will prevent the occurrence of a deficit.
It does seem to be something of a stretch to allow a Town Manager to take over school committee labor negotiations, whatever the budgetary situation, based on an official listing of duties that stops at "shall recommend".

January 11, 2009

This Is How the State Works (Its Way into a Hole)

Justin Katz

It's important to keep in mind that this report consists mainly of allegations, some of them (at least) made by people with compromising motivation. That said, the insight into the practices of our state are well worth familiarization:

[Probate Judge Robert E.] Rainville says he has done nothing wrong — and that the complaints against him are "100 percent politically motivated." He claims that Council Vice President Angelo A. Padula Jr. is trying to oust him because he is a lifelong friend of Stephen Alves, the former state senator from West Warwick who lost a reelection bid in November. ...

In Rhode Island, probate judges are political appointees. They do not operate under any uniform rules but wield great power. They can inalterably change an elderly person's life by appointing a stranger to take control over every facet of their affairs — from how their money is spent, to where they live and with whom they associate.

Some probate judges are experts in probate law. But others have very little expertise in these matters. Some routinely tape-record proceedings so that a complete record of what is said is made; others do not. Some routinely seal parts of court files while similar records in other cities and towns remain open to public inspection. At least one probate judge in the state routinely has lawyers who appear before him make their presentations to him privately at the bench so the spectators in the courtroom cannot hear what he or the lawyers say. The proceedings usually aren't taped, unless a lawyer brings a stenographer to make a record — at the client's expense.

As part of their duties, probate judges decide what fees to award guardians and lawyers who represent estates. The amounts charged vary greatly based on the complexity of the case, the amount of time spent by the attorney and how much the lawyer charges per hour, which varies based on the attorney. The Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct put no limit on what a lawyer may charge, only that the fee be "reasonable."

At first reading, so to speak, it's difficult to understand how a part-time legislature and the small-scale operations of our tiny state engender such endemic corruption as we all know to exist, but when one digs into matters, it begins to appear that the principle of mutual back scratching permeates the entire structure of government. It's as if corruption is laundered so thoroughly that it transcends the law.

That's why no one should be surprised if Rhode Island scores more highly in corruption as a matter of opinion survey than of prosecutions.

January 7, 2009

West Warwick Next in Line

Justin Katz

The school committee in West Warwick appears mainly to be doing the bare minimum to support a Caruolo suit for more money from the town, but it may be headed down the road behind East Providence soon:

The performance audit, commissioned by the town as a part of the Caruolo lawsuit proceedings from the last fiscal year, found that most substantial savings — $14.67 million — in the School Department budget would require concessions from the teachers union or waivers from state and federal mandates.

"These are recommendations for the future and going forward," said consultant Salvatore Augeri. "They could cut some supplies for a couple thousand, but we're not talking millions right now."

But $3.5 million is what the School Department says it needs to finish the remainder of this budget year. Last month, the committee sent the town a letter requesting an additional $3.5 million in operating funds and school officials have authorized their lawyer to file a lawsuit seeking the additional money once all other avenues are exhausted.

Is "the future and going forward" anything like "infinity and beyond"? It seems to me that the school committee has to stop toying around. It isn't enough to publish a list possibilities like "eliminating 16 teachers by requiring the maximum number of students allowed in each class by contract, and cutting 23 other positions that are not required by the state." The committee ought to be bringing that to the teachers' union and explaining that it will happen in the absence of deep concessions.