One of Rhode Island’s longest-running cases of a municipality paying a worker a full salary to stay home is now over, the NBC 10 I-Team has learned.
Michael Clancy, 62, officially retired two weeks ago, ending 22 years of legal wrangling and a limbo-type status that allowed the Warren police detective to receive his full pay and benefits, but never come to work.
When police officers or firefighters get hurt on the job, state law helps protect them by guaranteeing full pay and benefits until they recover and come back to work. It’s called injured on duty or IOD. But as the NBC 10 I-Team discovered years ago, some employees never fully recover and never come back to their job, but stay on the payroll.
Clancy suffered a staph infection in 1998, according to court filings. He hasn’t been back to work since. With just 22 cops on the force, the town of Warren has had to keep Clancy’s position open and pay him, according to the terms of IOD.
The one-time detective most recently collected approximately $114,000 in salary and benefits. Over the years, he’s been eligible for raises and clothing allowances, too.
For Town Manager Kate Michaud, a phantom position meant overstaffing the police department to avoid what could have been substantial overtime costs.
“We have a very limited budget, we have a small police department, even one salary makes a big difference to the bottom line of the department and their ability to function,” Michaud told the I-Team.
Clancy retired on Feb. 10, according to the town, with an ordinary state-issued pension (the terms are not yet available). When reached by a reporter, he did not want to comment, but in the past has blamed a broken system on lawmakers and those who have denied his claims at the state retirement board, formally known as Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI).
“This needs to be corrected on Smith Hill, and should have been years ago. It’s a shame that it wasn’t,” said Clancy just last year.
How can this happen? Some IOD workers fall into a gray area, like Clancy. The state’s retirement board denied him an accidental disability, skeptical as to whether his injuries were work-related. He believed they were.
Rhode Island law is vague on what cities and towns can do next. So many mayors, town managers and administrators take cases to court, but ultimately end up paying, under law.
“I do think there are improvements that could be made. I don’t think it benefits anybody to be in a limbo status. I don’t think it benefits the employee, it doesn’t benefit the employer, it doesn’t benefit the taxpayer,” said Michaud.
Last year, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law new language that strengthens the IOD statute and lays out stricter timetables for when state workers have to file accidental disabilities.
However, those new provisions do not cover city and town employees with older injuries, like Clancy. By union contract, the now-former detective is also eligible to collect $79,650 in unused sick and vacation time, according to town records.