EDITORIAL

Let's clear the smoke

Posted

Like a boil that grows increasingly painful, allegations of “gaming” unused sick days continues to plague the Warwick Fire Department.

The allegations that go as far as suggesting fraud and the illegal procurement of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars stem from Rob Cote’s exhaustive examination of department records. He has made his probe into the Fire Department operations a personal crusade, gaining the endorsement of former gubernatorial candidate Ken Block, the founder of Watchdog RI, and almost universally the ire of department higher-ups and, in some cases, elected officials who have the support of the firefighters’ union. 

Cote has gone to lengths to expose other forms of what he considers a waste of taxpayers’ dollars in what many think of as “gotcha” tactics, such as following Department of Public Works drivers and catching them on video as they make seemingly pointless drives through the city or remain parked for hours while chatting on their cell phones. He has been equally merciless in monitoring the movements of firefighters while taking apparatus to area supermarkets in a futile effort to stop the practice.

He is not bashful about sharing his findings, or for that matter his opinion. Mr. Cote regularly appears before the City Council to outline the alleged flaws he’s exposed. His emails are forwarded to a list of news outlets that rivals most of the candidates running for governor. The fact that the statewide media, other than WPRI TV and WPRO Radio, pay little heed to Mr. Cote appears to satisfy his critics that there’s smoke but no fire.

Indeed, there is a lot of bravado to Mr. Cote, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned since he started digging into the payment for unused firefighter sick pay more a year ago: he’s thorough and tenacious.

It’s the practice of those looking to deflect scrutiny to harp upon one or two “facts” within an argument, prove them wrong and hence discredit the totality of the premise. We have not seen that here. We suspect that is the case because Mr. Cote is using records he obtained under the Access to Public Records Act, or perhaps because Mr. Cote’s goes far deeper than that of city officials.

Without naming names, as no wrongdoing has been confirmed as of this time, Mr. Cote alleges firefighters are being paid for unused sick days that, in fact, they did use. He has compared the unused sick day pay – firefighters receive 20 paid sick days a year, for which they can get paid for 15 days – with sick days used for every member of the department since 2015. He says the sick day records for upper echelon members are missing, comprising more than 35 percent of the force. Nonetheless, he finds as many as 150 members were unfairly compensated for unused sick days. Over the three years he contends the city has paid for about 600 improperly recorded unused sick days amounting to more than $225,000, not counting overtime costs to cover for sick absences.  It should be noted that firefighters, by contract, cannot start getting paid for unused sick days until they have accumulated 140 days, or seven years of being sick-free. Remarkably, it seems, firefighters are extraordinarily healthy until they reach that threshold.

Also of great concern to Cote is how sick day data is compiled on handwritten ledgers that sometimes contain vast fluctuations in accounting figures between firefighters from month to month. He believes recording on handwritten documents to be incredibly inefficient, antiquated and opens the possibility for honest mistakes in the system, if not something more nefarious.

Mr. Cote has shared his findings with department administrators, the mayor, the council and, as we’ve said, the news media. So far, the response of officials has been to refrain from action or comment until completion of an audit of the records.

As the auditors are looking at the same records Mr. Cote has, we doubt their study will change much. What is troubling is Mr. Cote’s conclusion that officials knew and, in fact, condoned a practice of unfairly rewarding firefighters.

It’s time to clear the smoke and put out the fire if, indeed, there is one. The mayor should call for an investigation and remove this blot on the department. 

Comments

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richardcorrente

The "blot" that needs to be removed is Rob Cote.

He was the owner of the now closed "Rob Cote's Pro Divers" scuba shop and gave an embarrassingly high bid to the City Council to train the Warwick Firefighters in scuba. They ultimately got it done for a fraction of his bid and Cote has vowed revenge ever since.

He argued against the car tax and I agreed with him and testified with him at the State House and in Warwick City Hall many times but when he changed his argument to "how the value of each car was determined" I realized that he didn't want to improve the car tax issue, just continue to fight it, and I disassociated myself with him. He has been my biggest critic ever since. He has lied about me, stolen dozens of my signs and sent poison pen letters to my supporters. In 2012, he said he was selling his home at 74 Janet Court, and moving out of Warwick. I, for one, will help him pack. I'll bet I won't be alone! I'll bet that over half of the firefighters would show up. (current AND retired)

For the record, Warwick firefighters are paid an average of $47,760, according to Salary.com. Believe it or not the average salary of all firefighters in the entire country is the exact same number, $47,760, again, according to Salary.com. Is there a system in place here in Warwick? Yes. Whenever a system is in place will some people take advantage of the loopholes? ( I probably would.) Yes. Should those loopholes be tightened? Yes. Do we have a big problem, as Cote suggests.? Not hardly! He's trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill and he's failing miserably. This is just sour grapes from a vindictive scuba diver-trainer that couldn't get his way. He tried to rip off the taxpayers for thousands of dollars and failed! He is truly the "blot" of Warwick.

Happy Summer everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, July 26
Thecaptain

Dear mayor dumbness,

Please post 1 document, refer to 1 proposal, show 1 fact to substantiate the above ludicrous claims. For example:

What bid did I place

How much was the bid

What was the award

Who was it awarded to

And when did this take place?

Then please refer to one document from city records that shows any of your feckless allegations have any merit.

And by the way, pertaining to the car tax my efforts so far to date have saved the residents of Warwick 11.5 million dollars.

Notwithstanding the fact had I not been the voice of reason this state would have never adopted any type of car tax reform. As you remember, all of this was taking place while you were tax delinquent and squatting on the taxpayer dime at 177 Grandview Avenue in Warwick where you were delinquent on taxes utilities and mortgage payments.

By the way rest assured that any sign that you put up on city or state property will be removed and discarded into the trash Heap which will exemplify the failed fake Mayors candidacy.

Thursday, July 26
Thecaptain

One of the minor point of clarification should be made in terms of the comment on Statewide media.

Over a year-and-a-half ago, 9 met with Carol Koala of the Providence Journal and sat with her for an hour and a half and gave her all of the documents in a binder. Unfortunately she was unable to comprehend the complex issue and after several conversations it was noted that it was a futile effort to try to educate her on the subject matter. Similarly the channel 10 i-team was also unable to grasp the concept and decipher the documentation.

Thursday, July 26
Thecaptain

One of the minor point of clarification should be made in terms of the comment on Statewide media.

Over a year-and-a-half ago, I met with Carol Kozma of the Providence Journal and sat with her for an hour and a half and gave her all of the documents in a binder. Unfortunately she was unable to comprehend the complex issue and after several conversations it was noted that it was a futile effort to try to educate her on the subject matter. Similarly the channel 10 i-team was was also unable to grasp the concept and decipher the documentation.

Thursday, July 26
Warwick Man

Looks like the captain has had a few too many... This will

All be over soon and someone will look real juvenile... his name rhymes with snob Toke......

Thursday, July 26
Warwick Man

carol koala

Thursday, July 26
patientman

Wow, an editorial critical of city controls by the Beacon. I guess Solomon doesn't have the same relationship as Avedisian did.

Friday, July 27
Thecaptain

Rick,

Still waiting for you to post some facts. Didn't think you had the intellectual capacity to do so. Guess I was correct again.

By the way Mayor Imbecile, the average wage of the WFD is $69,036. You would have known that if you did any kind of research, you dope.

Friday, July 27
Thecaptain

Just a minor example of what has been found, and there are hundreds more.

The following men were all paid the maximum amount of unused sick pay, although they all took different amounts of sick time. This minor example is from the 2015 fraudulent payouts when perfect attendance paid 12.48 days. Same thing in 2016 and 2017. Does anyone see a trend?

Even the acting chief has been a beneficiary of the fraud. I can only wonder if Steven Kapalka, who had perfect attendance, is pissed off that he was paid the same amount as men that took 7 days off sick. I'll have to make sure he gets this analysis.

Name DAYS SICK DAYS PAID AMOUNT PAID

Steven Kapalka 0 12.48 $3939.30

David Andrews 7 12.48 $3939.30

Daniel Bradley 4 12.48 $3939.30

Thomas Bradley 7 12.48 $3939.30

Thomas Brady 7 12.48 $3939.30

Robert Cembor 4 12.48 $3939.30

Brian Cobb 7 12.48 $3939.30

Marcel Fontenault 5 12.48 $3939.30

Alan Gouveia 3 12.48 $3939.30

Paul Letourneau 7 12.48 $3939.30

George Lusignan 1 12.48 $3939.30

Gary Pellico 5 12.48 $3939.30

Tracy Titus 5 12.48 $3939.30

William Wilson 4 12.48 $3939.30

Monday, July 30
patientman

With the Feds arresting MA state police for overtime fraud, I'm worried the same might happen here. Could we end up with 25-30% of the WPD being arrested as part of a fraud investigation. Scary stuff

Tuesday, July 31
Hemi_Royed

The Warwick Fire Department Dive Team was awarded "SCBA" Dive Pins in October of 1997. This was after completing a program delivered by Peter Lema who was a "PADI" (Professional Association of Dive Instructors") instructor. I am unsure of the monetary cost ; however, Rob Cote did in fact place a bid to do the original training. He was unsuccessful in being awarded that

bid. After the bid award and from that moment forward to include the fire at his shop, he has what would normally be viewed as a "unhealthy" obsession with the Warwick Fire Department members. His broad brushed strokes would have people believe that Al Capone was running the WFD. He garnishment of the records are his presentation...has anyone checked to see if those records he refers to are the exact ones that he was given? How can he be the only wizard to read the forms? How can trained educated and experienced reporters fail? A bigger question is why does the editor of this paper not check factually with both sides before printing this drivel. There is no planned program to default the city. No one is perfect and mistakes are made. Bare minimum funds are spent annually on the Fire Department so a modern 2018 record system to today's technological standards are a dream. When trucks need to be replaced, why would one spend money on hardware and software? It is an Emergency Service not a Golfing Equipment Retailer or Manufacturer. Most who have an opinion of what goes on in fact have no idea. This includes Mr Rob Cote who has an awful lot of time on his hands coupled with an awful lot of snide comments. All because he did not get a bid award.

Thursday, August 2
Thecaptain

Thats funny stuff !!

Saturday, August 4
tekpfd

The captain (lol) complains about reporters not being able to grasp the concept. Why? Because even he doesn't grasp his own rhetoric.

He has accused me of being stupid for contending that FF'S work an average of 42 hours per week. He claimed they worked 48 hours per week. Wrong captain.

He also states here that Warwick FF'S average wage I'd $69,036 and the original commeter is wrong. He fails to recognize the difference between wage and salary. Such fundamental differences confuse and discredit his conclusions therefore others ignore his arguments...as they should. Obviously everyone else but him sees his "unhealthy" obsession with the WFD!

Monday, August 6
Thecaptain

Tom.

The difference between salary and wages. ... The person receiving a salary is not paid a smaller amount for working fewer hours, nor is he paid more for working overtime. Someone who is paid wages receives a pay rate per hour, multiplied by the number of hours worked. This person is considered to be a "non-exempt" employee.

Also Tom, I happen to have the documents from the city that show the "salary and the year end wages" of every Warwick Fire fighter for the last 3 years. Also, here is the link to the Dan Yorke show when you came on the air and questioned me and in less than 2 minutes you realized that you were wrong and did not have a the correct grasp of the concept, nor did you do your homework. Here is the link http://www.630wpro.com/podcasts/

go to pod cast Dan Yorke, scroll down 63 pod casts to the title Watchdogs Ken Block and Rob Cote, and scroll the time bar to the 28:00 mark. That is when you come on the air and clearly show your lack of knowledge on the subject.

Tuesday, August 7
tekpfd

The captain

Are you kidding? I don't have an understanding? You are delusional (and I'm trying to be civil here). I was cut off by phone problems on their end right away. You thought they worked 48 hours per week.

On your previous post here you stated $69K plus as average salary. I believe you're mixing that up with average total wages (incident o/t, etc). Correct me if I'm wrong. I have no papers or statistics in front of me, but I have an understanding of the whole system and you have none.

Tuesday, August 7
Thecaptain

Tom,

I have 60 lbs of documents which include all "salaries" and year end wages. Give me a name and I'll give you his financial statistics. Yes I said they work 48 hours . That statement was made, and is accurate, because they word 2 10 hr days and 2 14 hour nights. That equals 48 hours within the time frame of 1 week. when you extrapolate that over 365 days, and divide by 52 weeks, it "AVERAGES OUT" to be 42 hours.

To suggest that I am delusional and have no data and no understanding is foolish as I have more knowledge of the issues than the mayor, the chief, and every city council member. AND, I would welcome a debate on the issue with anyone at anytime. Trust me on this, my math is impeccable and indisputable.

Thursday, August 9
richardcorrente

Conclusion:

So Rob Cote spent an enormous amount of time and effort to discredit the Warwick Fire Department and presented his massive case to the Providence Journal who was "unable to comprehend the complex issue".

THEN he presented the same case to the people at Channel 10, who were "unable to grasp the concept and decipher the documentation."

So the ONLY two conclusions are these:

1. Impossible though it may seem, no one at those either of these two gigantic organizations are competent, or

2. Cote is taking hundreds of hours away from his life to fight an impossible fight filled with false accusations and lies.

You decide.

I know. It's a toughie.

Happy August everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, August 10
tekpfd

Thecaptain, 60 lbs of paper and impeccable math means nothing when you don't have an understanding of the system. You still believe subs (or change of shifts) cost the taxpayers $!

People from the news agencies understand your figures, the just don't agree with your conclusions of what they prove or don't prove.

You are delusional and unhealthfully obsessed with WFD!

Saturday, August 11
Thecaptain

And these comments are from stooges who have never looked at a document.

Sunday, August 12
tekpfd

Rob Cote, you are a joke sir!

Monday, August 13
Thecaptain

Tom, what 1 single document do you have in your possession to make any claims whatsoever? I look forward to humiliating you once again on the Dan Yorke show soon.

Monday, August 13