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To block firefighter’s pension, Providence faces uphill battle

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – If Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare follows through on his pledge to strip a firefighter terminated for insubordination of his pension, he’ll have to buck a historical trend.

A Target 12 review of pension cases where Providence sought to revoke retirement benefits for employees using the “dishonorable service” ordinance shows few victories for the city. In the last two decades the city has only successfully completely revoke the pension of two former employees.

If the city pursues Tucker’s pension, it will be the first test of a retooled “dishonorable service” ordinance that was passed in 2011.Legacy of losses

It was a high-profile case that dragged out through the courts for four years that set a high bar for the city to revoke a pension for dishonorable service.

In 2004 former city parks department office manager Kathleen Parsons pleaded no contest to an embezzlement charge. She admitted to stealing nearly $27,000 from the city to fuel a gambling habit.

City officials moved to revoke her pension, but the state Supreme Court eventually ruled for Parsons, determining an employee must be convicted of a crime to halt a pension. In the decision, the High Court ruled a “no contest” plea does not constitute a conviction.

The ruling was a blow to several cases the city was pursing at the time. It ended the city’s pursuit of three Providence Police officers who admitted to their role in a testing scandal, but were never charged. Retired Maj. Martin F. Hames, Capt. John “Jack” Ryan and former Col. Urbano Prignano are still on the pension payroll.

It also meant former Providence Police Sgt. Stephen Gonsalves – who pleaded no contest to his role in a drug ring that embarrassed the department – could collect his pension.

Even the late Vincent ‘Buddy” Cianci’s former top aide Frank Corrente – who was famously caught on FBI surveillance accepting a bribe – only saw his pension reduced, not revoked.

Corrente was convicted in the federal case dubbed “Operation Plunder Dome” but the retirement board decided he could collect a pension for his first chapter with the city when he was a city controller from 1967 to 1987. The decision shrank his pension from $70,576 to $22,231.

The two successes were for revoking the retirement benefits of the late Rosemary Glancy, a deputy tax assessor, and Anthony Annarino, a former tax collector. The pair were convicted as part of the Operation Plunder Dome investigation.

But even in Glancy’s case, she died before it could be adjudicated in the courts.Ordinance changed

After a string of failures, city leaders changed the pension ordinance so it no longer required a conviction to revoke a pension for dishonorable service. It would take a majority vote of the 13-member Providence Retirement Board to halt benefits. They would review the recommendation of a hearing officer – hired by the city – that conducts a type of trial.

If the pension is revoked, or even reduced, the retiree could then appeal to superior court.

On Tuesday Pare told WPRI.com the city was going to try to block fire Capt. Dennis Tucker from earning his pension, arguing that he didn’t “serve the city honorably.”

If the city pursues the pension battle, it will be the first test of the reshaped ordinance.

Tucker – who worked for the fire department since 1988 – was terminated last week after a three-member city trial board unanimously voted to approve the dismissal recommendation made by Pare.

Pare said Tucker was terminated for insubordination because “he was absolutely adamant that it wasn’t his responsibility to manage his firefighters that may or may not have been taking excess sick time,” Pare told WPRI.com.

But records show that while Tucker’s refusal to enforce disciplinary action on his subordinates contributed to his termination, an angry email Tucker sent to Pare – and then forwarded to every member of the fire department – was a key reason for Tucker’s discipline. Tim White( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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