Original Reports

Sometimes the Details Behind the Totals Are Important… Ask for Them

In setting up a tool like Tiverton Fact Check’s payroll transparency application, which is intended for general use, it’s necessary to decide where to draw the line.  For example, for the municipal side of the budget, we were given the amounts that employees received for each type of “other pay.”  Including those numbers, however, would have made the application much more complicated to use.

That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to see, there.

For example, one has to dig to that level of information to discover that $28,809 of the money Maintenance Foreman Robert Martin took home in “other pay” during his final year was for unused sick and vacation time.  That’s interesting — arguably outrageous — considering that Martin was forced into retirement after Channel 10 filmed him using town time and resources while working on his own projects as a landlord.  Yes, it is possible to steal time.

It’s bad enough that the state attorney general and the Tiverton Town Council let Martin go with no penalty for his behavior.  (Some in town mistakenly think he was exonerated.)  It’s much worse that the people elected to watch after our community’s interests let him walk away with more than double his regular pay for the year.  After all, Mr. Martin could have used the paid time off that employees receive as a benefit in order to take care of things on his own properties.  The fact that he didn’t (and got away with it) means that the people of Tiverton essentially wound up paying him double time for every hour he spent on other projects.

Another interesting detail in the town’s “other pay” totals is found among the firefighters.

Firefighters receive pay for time that they cannot work because they were “injured on duty.”  The case can be made that this benefit allows them to keep their minds on their work, in emergency situations, rather than worrying about the consequences of getting hurt.

In fiscal year 2012, the town spent $10,310 on injured-on-duty pay.  In fiscal year 2013, that number jumped 296%, to $40,777.  In fiscal year 2014, the increase wasn’t that huge, but still very large: up 42%, to $58,051.

Not surprisingly, overtime pay jumped up, as well.  (Naturally, if somebody cannot work temporarily because he’s injured, his coworkers fill in the gaps.)  In 2012, firefighters were paid $209,418 in overtime.  The next year, that number was up 66%, to $347,912 and then again, the next year, by 18%, to $410,792.

It’s possible, of course, that the people of Tiverton and the firefighters who come to their aid have had a string of bad luck over the last couple of years.  It would take still another level of detail, though, to determine whether that’s the explanation.  A curious resident (or journalist) could request documentation concerning both the injuries and the overtime and keep an eye out for anything that looks suspicious.

Those who may be curious, but who lack the time to do the investigating, can send their observations our way, at info@tivertonfactcheck.org.  We’ve already started a list of things that merit a closer look, and notes from the public would help us add to the list or to weight interest in the items already on it.

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Justin Katz

Justin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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