If you follow Rhode Island news at all, you’ve heard that State Police Colonel Steven O’Donnell has opted to retire from his job leading the agency. For the purposes of this post, let’s stipulate that the state government should be sorry to see him go after 30 years as the type of employee — “public servant,” as big-government types like to phrase it — whom we should want in key positions. Still, this caught my eye, particularly in light of the fact that O’Donnell is 56 years old and says he’s “currently seeking opportunities in the private and/or public sector” (emphasis added):
Twenty-three of O’Donnell’s three decades in law enforcement have been with state police. His pension will be $101,391 annually, said Frank Karpinski, administrator of the state retirement system.
Currently, O’Donnell makes around $150,000 per year, and if he lives to be 86, he’ll take in over $3 million in pension payments, even if he never receives a cost of living adjustment (COLA), while also spending some significant portion of that time working jobs that presumably will pay commensurately with his experience.
Being unable to find information on O’Donnell’s pension through my usually pretty comprehensive sources, I began asking questions of the Employee Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI). Here are some things that I’ve learned:
- The $101,391 is for his work for the state, only. If he’s entitled to anything for his brief time with the North Kingstown PD or the U.S. Marshall service, that would be additional. (I’m looking into those two angles.)
- After his time with the Department of Corrections, O’Donnell withdrew his contributions to the pension fund.
- Colonel O’Donnell contributed nothing toward his state police pension.
That final point means that his potential 30 years of pension payments can in essence be added to his 30 years of public-sector salaries as something akin to a delayed annual bonus. In Rhode Island, the question is never far from the surface: Who are the masters, and who are the servants?