SCHENECTADY — The City Council has tabled a controversial resolution to cash out the police chief’s unused sick time.
The City Council voted 5 to 2 on Monday to postpone a vote on a proposed $8,175 payout to city Police Chief Eric Clifford for 758 hours of unused sick time he accrued prior to his promotion.
Councilmembers John Polimeni, Leesa Perazzo, John Mootooveren, Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas and Marion Porterfield voted to nix the measure.
Polimeni cited the emergence of “additional information” for the request, which he later said was discussions with labor lawyers.
City Council President Edward Kosiur and Councilman Vince Riggi voted against the measure.
Kosiur criticized the last-minute revelation, calling it “peculiar” the city’s Finance Committee pushed to pass the measure out of committee last week following an extended discussion, but now several lawmakers have opted to reverse course.
He said he received two phone calls on Monday afternoon from Mootooveren and Polimeni asking the resolution be tabled.
“I was a ‘no’ vote from the beginning,” Kosiur said. “The numbers look black and white clearly in the contract. We cannot deviate from that.”
Riggi argued the 758 hours Clifford accrued over 14 years of service fell below the threshold of 960 hours listed in the police contract, an interpretation bolstered by an advisory opinion issued by city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico.
“This thing should be voted on and put to bed once and for all,” Riggi said. “When are we going to cut the cord on this and get it right?”
The contract states employees will be paid 25 percent of the value of the sick leave days earned “in excess of 120 days and up to 240 days.”
Clifford’s time amounts to 95 days. While he acknowledged he fell short, he contended he would have cleared the threshold if he continued on as lieutenant.
Polimeni, who sponsored the original resolution, said the intent of the agreement was clear and should be honored.
Clifford also contended he was not afforded the opportunity to discuss or consent to the the new benefits package upon taking the top slot in 2016 — the mayor and then-public safety commissioner, he said, asked him to keep his promotion under wraps ahead of a ceremony at Proctors — and was later surprised to learn his sick time was eliminated.
The decision to award Clifford the payout may not be the only possible solution:
In an interview with the Daily Gazette last week, the chief floated a trial balloon that would allow him to resume accruing sick time from where he left off and be cashed out at retirement.
The City Council adopted a new ordinance in 2011 which changed the benefit package for assistant chiefs, a measure designed to reduce costs by eliminating sick time payouts and instead boosting base salaries.
But Clifford, who left the PBA as a result of the promotion, was elevated as a lieutenant with limited sick time — not an assistant chief with unlimited sick time— which short-circuited the process and didn’t provide a clear roadmap forward, he said.
Riggi posed an open question to Clifford on Monday:
“Would you have taken the job if you were told you couldn’t cash out your sick time?” he asked.
He also asked if Clifford would have considered taking a pay cut:
“You can’t have it both ways,” Riggi said.
Clifford, who did not attend the meeting, declined comment on Monday.
In the wake of the controversial discussion, lawmakers said they will broadly review the city's sick time and retirement benefits for all collective bargaining units.
A public hearing designed to solicit feedback to amend the city code regarding compensation and benefits for public safety managers has been postponed until Nov. 12.
Kosiur instead initiated a study designed to cover all collective bargaining units — not just public safety management.
Officials will examine how many employees leave bargaining units to become managers; how much sick time they normally have used, and what payouts they receive at retirement.
“This would involve a comprehensive study of all of our collective bargaining agreements in order to see how each union accrues sick time and what benefits they are entitled to at retirement,” Kosiur said.
Polimeni floated a similar study last week.
Once officials receive that information, Kosiur said the city’s Human Resources and Law Departments will assemble a plan to standardize contract language as opposed to settling disputes on an ad hoc basis, a process that he estimated could take two months.