PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Elorza administration has signed off on nearly $400,000 in payouts to former city employees since 2015 as part of a series of severance packages that have received little public scrutiny and often contained other valuable perks, including health benefits and agreements to not challenge the workers’ pensions.
The most recent example is the city’s decision earlier this month to part ways with Sybil Bailey, a longtime human resources director who signed an agreement that guarantees her a year’s salary, unused vacation time and health benefits but prohibits her from commenting on the deal or disparaging the administration.
A Target 12 review of every separation agreement signed by the city since 2015 shows 26 former employees received at least $389,000 in payments, including 11 at-will workers who were not members of a collective bargaining unit. The payouts range from $1,500 to a former parking enforcement officer up to $138,000 for Bailey.
Many of the agreements, obtained through a public records request, came as news to city treasurer James Lombardi, who said he was only aware of the severance packages for Bailey and Robin Muksian, a former chief operating officer who was paid $34,000 in 2017 as part of her abrupt exit from City Hall.
Lombardi said he believes a city ordinance requires the council to approve severance packages that include more than unused vacation time for non-union employees.
“Any payment that was made in violation of the ordinance is in my opinion not an authorized payment by the city,” Lombardi told Target 12. “The administration is aware of the ordinance requiring council approval and I question the secrecy and need or purpose of some of these payments.”
Jeffrey Dana, the city solicitor, disagreed that most of the severance packages were required to go before the council, but he said an ordinance approved in July does require legislative approval of agreements worth more than $10,000.
Dana acknowledged that a $43,000 severance agreement for former city fleet manager Michael Grant that he signed in September was never sent to the council. He called it a mistake by the law department.
The agreement for Bailey was sent to the City Council earlier this month. The Committee on Claims and Pending Suits met in executive session on the deal last week, but declined to take action. The committee has not yet scheduled another meeting. Bailey’s check is still pending.
Most of the severance packages signed by the city include similar language, such as a provision that requires the city to sign a letter of reference to future employers. The agreements often prohibit the employee from suing the city for any reason.
The signed agreements rarely state the reason the employee is being let go, although some have included references to their performance. One of the deals signed in June for former recreation center director Keith Moors included seven weeks’ pay but also stated the employee had a “history of being disciplined during the course of his employment with the city.”
The agreement with Moors went on to state that the city was “contemplating terminating” him, but that he would likely challenge his firing. The deal states that the city and Moors were agreeing to “fully resolve their disputes.”
As human resources director, Bailey was often required to sign off on many of the severance agreements. But her agreement was more extensive than the ones signed by many of her former colleagues.
While many of the deals included a non-disparagement clause, Bailey’s agreement prohibits her from disclosing any terms of the deal to anyone except for her legal counsel, spouse or financial advisor. She has repeatedly declined to comment to Target 12.
A spokesperson for Elorza also declined to comment, citing various clauses in many of the agreements.