WARWICK, RI — A frequent critic of the Warwick Fire Department received a mixed message of sorts in a mailed contract negotiation document, and the city is concerned about why it was released.
The envelope that included the potentially confidential two pages titled “Management Submitted Initial Proposals” was mailed to Rob Cote Monday, covering a number of topics the Warwick resident has fought against over the years.
But a handwritten statement in green marker stated, “Thanks you jerk” on one page and “Bigger jerk” on the second page.
While not commenting on the message, Warwick city spokesperson Courtney Marciano did confirm the document appears authentic.
“Knowing that Mr. Cote is in receipt of those documents is concerning, and we will look into the situation,” she said. “As negotiations with the fire union continue, we will continue to work in the best interest of all involved parties.”
The Warwick Fire Department has not responded to requests for comment at this time.
The proposals on the document include eliminating unused sick time payouts and the firefighters’ clothing maintenance allowance.
Another paragraph pitched a new provision that fire department emergency vehicles “shall not be used for personal matters to collect food or supplies.”
There was also a proposal to limit shift changes to one per firefighter every two months, as opposed to the current contract that does not set limits on shift changes.
Anyone familiar with Cote knows he has mentioned these and other potential issues over the years, with the shift change item potentially at the top of his list.
Cote and other critics claim shift changes allow firefighters to swap shifts with their colleagues instead of using vacation and sick time, potentially increasing the contracted, end of the year and end of career payouts for unused vacation and sick time.
A review of dozens of municipal contracts by Target 12 last year showed most fire departments in Rhode Island and throughout the country allow shift changes and payouts for unused vacation and sick time.
“The firefighters doing a change of shift and he’s preserving both his sick day and his vacation day so he can monetize it later,” Cote said. “It allows a guy to monetize his vacation day or his sick day at a higher rate, later on.”
Cote said he discovered 1,391 shift change forms are allegedly missing from the Warwick Fire Department, and that prompted his complaints to Rhode Island’s secretary of state and attorney general’s office.
Warwick business owner Ken Block, who’s made a living out of examining government documents and expenditures, helped Cote digitize and analyze about 50 pounds of documents.
He believes Cote has hit a nerve about an issue that is costing taxpayers millions of dollars over the years.
“My professional opinion is that there is absolutely a problem with shift manipulation in Warwick,” Block said. “And in fact, there’s an investigation occurring about that as we speak.”
Attorney general’s office spokesperson Amy Kempe confirmed Cote’s complaint was received and “assigned to an attorney within the Open Government Unit to review.”
“It is our policy not to comment on the time frame as to when the Office will issue a finding for any open government complaint as each case is different,” Kempe said. “That said, it is early in the process.”
The anonymous letter arrived at Cote’s home the day before his complaint about the lost shift change documents prompted a “records management workshop” with the Warwick Fire Department.
Secretary of state spokesperson Nicole Lagace said her office held the meeting Tuesday to train the department “on the proper care and disposition of records.”