EDITORIAL: Side with taxpayers on police chief’s sick-time payout

If chief isn't entitle to benefit, Schenectady City Council shouldn't use taxpayer money to pay it.
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford.
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Given the chance to save the taxpayers money or to make a questionable financial payout to a government employee, the Schenectady City Council should remember where its loyalties lie.

So when it comes time to vote Monday on whether to award Police Chief Eric Clifford more than $8,000 in taxpayer money for unused sick time for the years before he became chief, the council’s choice is pretty clear.

No matter how much they like the chief or how satisfied they are with the job he’s doing, if there’s a chance the law and the police contract support the people who pay the bill, the council must vote to deny the payout.

At issue is sick time Clifford accumulated prior to becoming chief in 2016. 

According to the police contract, employees are entitled to 25 percent of their unused sick time when they accumulate 120 sick days, or 960 hours.

During his 14 years on the force before he officially retired to become chief, Clifford only accumulated about 95 days of unused sick time, or about 758 hours.

If the trigger for the benefit is 120 days and the chief only accumulated 95 days, then it seems pretty clear he hasn’t met the threshold, and therefore, the taxpayers aren’t on the hook for the payment.

That interpretation of the contract was backed up by the city’s in-house lawyer, Corporation Counsel Carl Falitico, and by a separate review with a labor lawyer by Councilman Vince Riggi.

Yet some members of the council, including Councilman John Polimeni, have tried to justify the payment to Clifford by saying he would have reached the threshold within two years had he not retired to take the chief’s job.

The idea behind paying out on unused sick time is to reward employees who don’t call in sick over their careers.

If you can use the kind of argument Councilman Polimeni is making to justify reaching the payout threshold, it diminishes the benefit earned by others. 

The city also would be obligated to extend the benefit to anyone who comes within striking distance of the threshold. 

How is that fair to those who don’t call in sick for the required number of hours in order to trigger the benefit?

This wouldn’t even be up for debate if Clifford had retired and left the department altogether. The fact that he stayed on to become chief, however, doesn’t negate the fact that he didn’t reach the threshold while a rank-and-file officer.

With the law, the city code, the contract and common sense on its side, the City Council has no choice but to deny the payout.

Any other decision would be disloyal.

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