A tale of two mayors
One is an announced candidate for Lieutenant Governor; the other is exploring whether he will run for the slot being vacated by a term-limited Elizabeth Roberts. Mayor Daniel McKee of Cumberland has tossed his proverbial hat in the ring; the other contender is former North Providence Mayor and present Secretary of State, Ralph Mollis. The nod for the democratic standard bearer for this position should be a no-brainer, but isn’t. Here’s why.
Daniel McKee has a long record of accomplishment to show for his six terms as Mayor. He consolidated the four independent fire districts in Cumberland, and led the charge to create a joint municipal group health insurance program that saved taxpayers millions of dollars in the ensuing 5 years. His greatest accomplishment is probably the establishment of a mayoral academy in the Blackstone Valley. He had a tough fight on his hands reshaping how a charter school should operate. Approximately two-thirds of the students are low-income, and half are black or Latino. Upon entering the school, 5th graders lagged behind their peers in the public school. After two years, test scores soared and the school received a “Commended” ranking, which is reserved for about the top 10 percent of schools in Rhode Island.
Therein, unfortunately, is the rub for Mayor McKee’s statewide office prospects. He encountered opposition from the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO, which testified against the legislation to establish mayoral academies with flexibility for curriculum and staffing. After a bruising battle, the Mayor succeeded in establishing the school and it has excelled academically. Despite an obvious success in what should be a shared goal of educating students, Mr. McKee may very well face backlash from union members in a primary.
By contrast, during his tenure, Mayor Ralph Mollis was a darling to the unions. One needs only to view Tim White’s investigative piece on WPRI on the hiring of a 52-year old firefighter. The man missed almost 50 percent of work due to alleged disabilities of one sort or another. Under the union contract sanctioned by Mollis, not only was he able to join the department at age 52 but also, if he served one day as an acting Lieutenant, he could retire at that pay. That’s precisely what he did a couple of days after filling in once as a Lieutenant. He apparently re-injured himself picking up a small bag, so his pension is tax-free.
The entire fire department is under a cloud. The fire chief retired with a severance package that included $104,000 in so-called unused sick and vacation days. He had to return more than $50,000 based on a subsequent review by the Mayor Lombardi administration, since he was not entitled to the money he claimed. A battalion chief also paid himself overtime for work he didn’t perform. The underlying contracts that allowed such tomfoolery were initiated during the Mollis administration. Another municipal worker who never fought a fire was entitled to a firefighter’s pension because of the way the contract was written.
Mollis' own behavior hasn’t been exemplary. From attending a reputed mob funeral, to keeping campaign contributions from three former North Providence councilmen serving time for extortion and bribery, and paying a $3000 ethics fine for soliciting donations from his employees, he isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to ethics.
Nonetheless, it is precisely because of these exorbitant union contracts — and the union vote — that gives Mr. Mollis an edge going into the primary. So, Mr. McKee’s ethics, which as of this writing are unassailable, may cost him the race because of the ethically challenged give-away record of Mr. Mollis.