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Schenectady Council continues to debate police chief’s sick time

Schenectady Council continues to debate police chief’s sick time

 Schenectady Council continues to debate police chief’s sick time
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford
Photographer: Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY —  The City Council continues to debate whether to pay out $8,175 worth of unused sick time to city Police Chief Eric Clifford. 

Members of the City Council’s Finance Committee passed a resolution on Tuesday following an extended discussion over their interpretation of the contract language. 

When Clifford was promoted to lead the city's Police Department in 2016, he had accumulated 758 hours of unused sick time over 14 years. But the payout was eliminated, a measure Councilman John Polimeni has called an “oversight.”

Currently, officers have an incentive of 25 percent payout for unused sick time as long as they have accumulated 960 unused hours, a contract interpretation Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico made in an advisory opinion to lawmakers. 

The sum for Clifford is based on 189.5 hours using the $43.14 hourly rate as a lieutenant. 

But that 758 hours is below the 960-hour threshold, said Councilman Vince Riggi, who contended the chief hasn't accrued enough hours and the city was using an incorrect formula. 

Riggi read directly from the contract, which said upon retirement, employees will be paid 25 percent of the value of the sick leave days earned by the employee “in excess of 120 days and up to 240 days.”

“I don’t know how else you read that,” Riggi said. 

Clifford is also ineligible for the payout, hence the debate, Falotico said.

But Polimeni, who sponsored the resolution, said if projected forward, "Clifford would have accumulated the necessary minimum hours for a payout within two years of his promotion, with four more years remaining to meet the minimum requirement," according to a memo describing the resolution. 

Lawmakers briefly went into executive session before voting. 

"I think it's clear the intent of the contract is 960 [hours] is the trigger," said Polimeni, who sponsored the resolution. 

Riggi also questioned why three retired city police officers were overcompensated by about $28,000 in sick time when they should have received about $8,000.

“I really have a problem with this,” Riggi said. “It’s pretty clear what [the contract] says.”

Since the policy has been in place, City Police have seen a reduction in overtime, Polimeni said. 

"Instead the overtime is being used for actual active policing, and that's resulted in a reduction in crime,” Polimeni said. 

Falotico said that section of the contract, written 20 years ago, has only impacted personnel who have retired during the past two years. When they do so, the city has been paying out the entire sick time balance, not just amounts exceeding 960 hours. 

The crux of the debate, Falotico said, is “Do people get paid for the whole thing, or do they get paid for the amount over?”

Polimeni acknowledged the mixed interpretation indicated future clarification of contract language is needed, which he “strongly suggested" be reviewed during upcoming negotiations of police contracts. 

The full City Council will vote on the measure Monday.

Falotico said Clifford isn’t a member of the PBA, and as a result, the City Council isn’t legally obligated to authorize the payout. 

“There’s absolutely no legal argument to raise anybody’s salary beyond what is budgeted for throughout the course of the year,” Falotico said.

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