Failing to gain support for second passage of an ordinance that would amend the procedure to strip city employees and officials of their pension for dishonorable service, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon agreed to change the measure and bring it up again next Monday.
“He stepped up to the plate,” former councilman and state Representative Al Gemma said, after Solomon shelved his initial ordinance Monday night. Patterned after legislation in Providence, Solomon said he was looking to tighten up the city ordinance.
The Solomon measure had gained overwhelming support for first passage, but then questions surfaced. As a councilman 16 years ago, Gemma introduced the current ordinance that refers cases of dishonorable service to the Superior Court to decide whether they should lose their pensions.
The problem with Solomon’s, in the view of Gemma, City Personnel Director Oscar Shelton and others, was that the power to revoke pensions would be transferred to the city Retirement Board and the Board of Public Safety. Their action could be appealed to the court, but anyone who appealed would be denied the right to a trial, as the law was written. Gemma says the current law is adequate and fair.
“It has stood the test of time for almost two decades. It allows due process every step of the way. I would rather defend the innocence of anyone before trying to prove the guilt of anyone. Innocence goes back to our forefathers. I didn’t realize there was a limit to getting justice,” Gemma told the council.
Shelton, who sent a memo to council members expressing his concerns, questioned whether the ordinance could stand a legal challenge and worried that people would not be afforded due process under the new law.
While Solomon thanked Gemma for his insight, he wasn’t happy with Shelton.
“When he comes before us and tells us that these boards don’t have the ability to make these decisions, I find that comical because our Board of Public Safety makes decisions at every meeting, whether it’s relative to suspensions, issuances to licenses, promotions or demotions of city officers,” he said. “How can you say they don’t have the ability? That’s bull. These boards are empowered to make these decisions and if the personnel director doesn’t know that then maybe it’s time for a new personnel director. If someone says they don’t have the ability, then shame on them.”
Gemma said Solomon told him he planned to amend his legislation so the courts would have the say on revocation. Solomon couldn’t be reached for comment.