As the Rhode Island pension debate moves toward final action in the State House, a quote attributed to William Penn comes to mind; "Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it."
Lines continue to be drawn between public-sector employees and those in the private sector, taxpayers vs. public- employee-union members. What seems forgotten is that all public employees are taxpayers also. In the heat of constant debate is the refrain of public-sector employees enjoying benefits unavailable to those in the private sector. What hasn't been recognized is the inherent difference between public and private employment.
Those in private employment engage in occupations aimed at deriving a profit for their employer. Those who bring the greatest profit receive the greatest reward, bonuses, stock options, etc.
These benefits are unavailable to public-sector employees. In fact, the greater the service, the greater the cost. Those in the public-sector engage in occupations of service demanded by the public we serve.
We, the public in general, are the consumers demanding these services, fire and rescue response in time of need, police to serve and protect, various public- works departments picking up our trash, plowing and sanding our roads, and many other services, and educators within safe schools for our children, special-needs programs.
These services come with a price that brings us to the heart of our present debate on "pension reform" Workers in public service are no different in one way from private-sector workers. Each seeks the best pay-and-benefit package they can get. In the private sector, this pursuit is lauded. In the public sector it is demonized.
For 25 years, first as a "special" officer, then full time for 23-plus years, rising to the rank of Detective Division commander as a lieutenant, I honored my sworn promise to "Preserve the Constitution and the laws of the State of Rhode Island".
During that time I also sat at negotiation tables debating working agreements with the town, some through arbitration, and some through handshakes across the table.
These negotiations included retirements at 20 years and cost-of-lving adjustment (COLA). I clearly recall the town"s concerns, particularly as we negotiated the COLA. They were concerned about how much their contribution would rise. Initially there was a spike in town contributions, but this was followed by percentage decreases, and notification by the state that until further notice, because of the solvency of the municipal police and fire plan, the town need not contribute until further notice.
This lasted a few years, but we, the employees still contributed each payday without exception. In fact, our contribution was raised by one percent following agreement on the 3 percent COLA (non-compounding I might add). I paid this each payday for some 15 years.
Now the general treasurer and governor seek to "suspend" what I've paid for in what she refers to a "suspension" for up to 19 years. She also continually trumpets as fact; "The employees have done nothing wrong. They have paid their share on time, all the time". I ask then, why are we, the employees who've done nothing wrong, worked hard for our cities and towns, and paid our fair share on time, all the time being penalized for in fact this proposed suspension of COLAs is just that!
During my employment, I believe I served the public well, keeping my part of the bargain as thousands of other public employees have, My work was recognized through a number of commendations from the Town of East Greenwich and other area cities and towns. It was recognized by the U.S. Postal Service Inspector's office, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Statewide District Attorneys in Florida, a New York City Police Department narcotics task force, the attorney general's departments in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as the National Police Hall of Fame and American Legion for my arrest of serial killer Gene Travis.
My "bonus" for this, armed guards at my house following Travis's escape from the ACI with my wife in fear, and also worrying about how not to worry our three young children. No "monetary bonuses or stock options" here.
In June 2000, my employment circumstances changed when my cruiser was rammed after a car stop. This resulted in multiple surgeries, two on my back, one on my neck, and nine years later, the surprise of a full right-hip replacement. After the first operation on my back, I returned to work in July 2001.
A few months later, I entered a burning building with one of my patrolmen, Jeremy Fague. We knew apartments took up the buildings second and third floor. The north wall of the building, and floor of one apartment on that side were already breached by fire with smoke filling the hallway. Our efforts roused a female occupant, and brought her from the building.
For this,we were recognized with commendations from the town, "no bonuses or stock options". We were governed only by the oaths of employment as police officers we each took, and the town's contractual promises of remuneration, "pay and benefits".
From my return until my final day, Oct. 31, 2003, I maintained my promises even as I placed myself in traction three to four times daily, with pain medication. In 2004 I endured a second operation on my back, and one on my neck. I am currently fused in both areas having lost three discs. I was retired with a disability pension (another hot button in this pension debate).
All I seek is security for my family of five. I honored my commitments while employed. All I seek is fulfillment of promises made including the COLA that I've already invested in. What value is there to be found in a promise? As William Penn once said; "Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it."
The writer is a retired East Greenwich detective lieutenant, Now 53, he retired at 45.