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New Woonsocket police chief gets $133K in unused sick, vacation time after leaving Providence

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – When Providence Police Commander Thomas Oates left the capital city to become chief of police in Woonsocket last week, the city didn’t just lose one of its most respected law-enforcement officials.

It was also forced to pay Oates more than $133,000 to cover unused sick and vacation accumulated throughout his 36-year career, according to a Target 12 review of city payroll records.(Those payments will be made in three installments.)

Upon retiring from the city, Oates became eligible to cash out $91,389 in unused sick time and $42,017 for vacation time he didn’t use, totaling $133,407.  Records show he left the department with about 242 unused sick days and 52 vacation days.

Oates is the latest city retiree to benefit from a 2013 city ordinance that allowed a select group of mostly management-level employees to receive about $1-million in sick-time severance payments upon retirement, but eliminated that benefit for future non-union workers.  (Union members are eligible to accrue sick days.)

The argument made in favor of the ordinance at the time was that many of the non-union workers receiving the sick days were previously members of a union – typically police or fire – and were led to believe they would continue to compile sick days when they joined the management ranks.

The city does allow all employees to cash out vacation time.

All but one member of the City Council approved the ordinance and former Mayor Angel Taveras signed it into law. But Councilman John Igliozzi, the lone dissenter, said he didn’t believe management-level employees should receive those payments.

“The problem when the city opened the window was [city employees] got the benefit of rising up in the ranks and getting more pay and a higher pension and in return they also got this additional benefit,” Igliozzi told Target 12 Thursday.

Oates, whose first day as chief in Woonsocket was Monday, declined to comment. Igliozzi praised Oates for his service to Providence, calling him “an exemplary employee who will be a loss to department.

“It’s not on him,” Igliozzi said. “It’s on the people at the time who ran the government.”

James Lombardi, who has served as city treasurer since 2011, said the 2013 ordinance was crafted after he refused to sign off on severance packages for non-union employees without approval of the City Council.

The ordinance “froze everyone at that point,” Lombardi said.

When Lombardi stopped signing off on sick-time payments in 2011,  30 non-union city employees – including Oates – that had accumulated the largest portion of the sick time were left in limbo. At the time, city officials argued that while the ordinance did benefit a group of existing employees, it would clarify the city’s policy moving forward.

Many members of that group remain active city employees, including Police Chief Hugh Clements and Majors Thomas Verdi and Francisco Colon. They’ll be eligible to cash out their sick time when they retire.Correction: This original version of this report incorrectly stated Oates received 390 vacation days. It was 390 hours toward vacation.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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