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Schenectady Police Chief Clifford contends he didn’t ‘voluntarily agree’ to sick time elimination

Schenectady Police Chief Clifford contends he didn’t ‘voluntarily agree’ to sick time elimination

City Council to vote on payout Monday night
Schenectady Police Chief Clifford contends he didn’t ‘voluntarily agree’ to sick time elimination
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford speaks to new recruits during a swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 11, 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller / Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — City Police Chief Eric Clifford said he just wants what is rightfully his. 

“I did not voluntarily agree to this when I took the job,” Clifford said, referring to the 758 hours of unused sick time that were scrapped once he was promoted to chief in 2016. 

“There was not transparency afforded to me when I was promoted," he said. 

Clifford is seeking a $8,175 payout of unused sick time accrued over 14 years. 

Lawmakers are cleaved over interpretation of language in police contracts governing the policy.

Both Councilman Vince Riggi and city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico argue the contracts'  language is clear that upon said retirement, employees will be paid 25 percent of the value of the sick leave days “in excess of 120 days and up to 240 days.”

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

But Finance Committee Chairman John Polimeni says the intent of the contract is clear and is co-sponsoring the resolution to cash out Clifford.

Prior to his promotion, every other chief promoted from within the department was hired with unlimited sick time, Clifford said.

And historically, assistant chiefs promoted to the top slot had all of their unused sick time cashed out upon retirement, he said, which resulted in payouts as high as $60,000 and $70,000.

To cut costs, the City Council adopted a new ordinance in 2011 which changed the benefit package for assistance chiefs, Clifford said. While that measure eliminated the sick time payouts,  it boosted base salaries. 

Clifford, who exited the PBA with the promotion, was promoted as a lieutenant with limited sick time, which somewhat short-circuited the process, and didn’t provide a clear roadmap forward, he said.

Mayor Gary McCarthy, he said, asked him to keep his promotion under wraps ahead of a ceremony at Proctors.

As such, Clifford said the shroud of secrecy deprived him of the opportunity to check in with the Finance Department to discuss his new benefit package.

“I did exactly what they asked me to do, and that did not allow me to go to Finance to ask what the benefit package was,” Clifford said. “Quite frankly, I didn’t ask the mayor and commissioner because I didn’t think it would be appropriate.” 

McCarthy declined comment on Friday.

Clifford said had he continued on as lieutenant, he would have cleared the 960-hour threshold.

“Basically, I was two-thirds of the way there when I got promoted,” he said. “You wouldn’t think they would have taken away a benefit when I got promoted.” 

The chief also said he was a responsible steward of his sick time and stopped participating in local athletic leagues to avoid getting injured. 

After he learned his hours had been zeroed out, Clifford said he had early discussions with city Human Resource Director Tiffany White and then-Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett to resolve the issue, but those fizzled out following Bennett’s death and he because busy with other projects.

City Council members will vote on Monday if they will accept the payout.

Polimeni has also indicated he will sponsor legislation to clarify contract language in the future.

Clifford said he didn’t attend previous committee meetings to make his case directly to lawmakers because he wanted to avoid the perception that he was making his request personal.

“If I showed up at a City Council meeting prior, it would be seen as me lobbying,” he said.

Falotico previously said lawmakers aren’t legally obligated to grant the chief’s request.

Clifford urged lawmakers to either cash him out at the amount when he was promoted, or allow him to continue to accrue the time and offer him a buyout upon retirement.

“It’s the right thing to do to address it now,” Clifford said. “If they don’t address it with me, they will have to address it later.”

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