By Seth Daniel
City councillors rushed to defend themselves Monday after a scathing report on the front page of the Sunday Boston Globe concerning the pensions of seven city councillors.
Some councillors even went so far as to say they had been set up with the story, and perhaps the story was payback for political disagreements.
“There are four people on this council making much more than me, and their names weren’t mentioned,” said Ward 3 Councillor Arthur Guinasso. “It doesn’t seem coincidental to me that the three councillors mentioned on the front page of the Globe – myself, Bob Haas and George Colella – are the same ones who have been in full support of rolling back the bar hours to 1 a.m.”
Others mentioned they felt other city councillors with an axe to grind and local bar owners who oppose the rollback set them up.
Councillor George V. Colella said he also believed locals who are unhappy with the council had precipitated the story.
“I’m not sure why the story came at this point and I’m not sure who called in to the author to precipitate the article,” he said. “Obviously, it’s someone who is unhappy with us, and, obviously, it’s an election year…I’m more than certain that there are two or three people in the city – without naming names – who called [the author] and started the whole thing.”
In the story, it was reported and represented that seven of the 11 city councillors are collecting state or local pensions while also collecting council pay, with the story indicating that the City Council was the poster child for statewide pension reform.
For the record, those councillors on a city pension and also receiving councilor’s salary are councillors George Colella, John Correggio, Bob Haas, Arthur Guinasso, Charlie Patch and John Powers. Councillor Ira Novoselsky is on a pension from his state job and a military pension, but isn’t in the city’s pension system.
Councillors Dan Rizzo, Jim Kimmerle, Tony Zambuto and George Rotondo don’t qualify for pension benefits yet.
A pension reform plan has been proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick and is being debated in the state Senate this week.
At the outset, residents around the city reacted with outrage at the practice detailed in the article, as public pensions have been attracting the ire of many in the public for the last several months. Many provisions that have been on the books for generations have just now surfaced as the economy has tightened and state government has hit financial crisis mode.
Naturally, the article pointed out that nothing any Revere councillors are doing is illegal, but concluded that the legal practices being utilized “are an example of the nest-feathering that has infuriated the public,” the story read.
It seems several Revere city councillors have been caught up in the crossfire of the debate.
At issue with councillors Colella and Guinasso are the figures used in the story.
“Their figures are just wrong,” said Guinasso, noting that the story went to print without his being able to comment on the matter.
It was mentioned that Colella gets $62,700 in pension and benefits per year. He said those numbers don’t add up, even using city records.
“I think some of the charges and some of the dollar values have been erroneously reported, and I don’t think that’s very fair,” said Colella. “After 48 years of service to the city, it’s come down to advertising comments about a pension plan that has been in vogue for as long as the city has been a city. Now, all of a sudden, it’s an issue. I don’t mind anyone reporting what I’m getting, but I hope it can be put out in a fashion that’s true.”
He added he disputes he used the controversial One Day, One Year provision of the pension law three times. That state law has been on the books since the 1930s and allows an employee or elected official to get credit for one year of service as long as he or she works one full day of the year.
“I retired only once, so I’m not sure that’s accurate,” he said.
Guinasso said he retired in 2002 after he lost an election for councillor-at-large. He said he planned to stay out of politics, and began receiving his pension. When he jumped back into politics in 2003 and took back his Ward 3 seat, he began getting paid for his council job and also getting his pension. The practice is legal and allowed by state law, and actually happens all over the state.
“I was out of politics and thought it was for good,” he said. “There was no sinister plot to deceive anyone.”
Councillor Novoselsky said he took an early retirement at age 55 from his state job in order to take care of his ailing wife. He said he doesn’t accept a city pension, but does take a salary.
“My pension is a state pension, straight out, and the council pay supplements my life,” he said. “I don’t count on it because I also get a military pension, which I earned. Many of us are in pensions because we worked hard for them and stayed at a job for many years.”
Added Councillor John Correggio, who retired from the fire department after 32 years and now gets his pension for that service along with his council salary, “The bottom line is it’s a legitimate thing. We inherited it with the office. It came with the job. We didn’t violate anything. We followed the rules.”
One angle in the story, though, that had some traction were local ordinances passed in 2000 that allow councillors to collect longevity pay and to use that pay in calculating their eventual pension payments.
According to the story, longevity pay is awarded in $500 increments for the first nine years and then $200 for every year thereafter. The cap on longevity pay is $6,300.
While state law governs most other pension laws cited in the story, the longevity provision is purely under local control of the council.
In the end, Councillor Haas and Colella said it’s just another negative story by the Globe in a long list of negative stories about Revere.
“Revere has a history with them, and they sensationalize stories on Revere,” said Haas. “That’s the way it’s been for a long time…The Globe writes for [Gov.] Deval Patrick. This shows where they’re at. They could have gone to Mashpee, Chelsea or North Adams. Revere is a mirror image of the rest of the state…In the last paragraph, [the author] said it’s all legal, so what does he want us to do?”