Note in Response to the Providence Journal


Because Providence Journal staff writer Lynn Arditi never made any attempt, of which I’m aware, to contact me or anybody associated with the Ocean State Current while writing her article,”Overtime reports inflated, say R.I. officials,” a few moments of a Saturday morning are justified for response.

In the article, the Projo reports on the payroll controversy that we reported in three articles this week (here, here, and here). Arditi’s failure to seek comment from — or even to name — the people whose credibility her article attacks is in stark contrast to the response that our stories have gotten from all of the following local media sources, most of whom also contacted government officials for their explanation of the payroll numbers:

  • Bill Rappleye, TV news, on NBC 10.
  • Helen Glover, talk radio, on 920 WHJJ.
  • Abbey Niezgoda, TV news, on ABC 6.
  • Buddy Cianci, talk radio, on 630 WPRO. (Buddy had on RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse in the segment prior to the one with BHDDH director Craig Stenning provided at the link.)
  • Kate Nagle, online news, on GoLocalProv.
  • Steve Kass, talk radio, on 1480 WSAR.

As far as I know, the only media professionals (other than Lynn Arditi of the Providence Journal) who commented on the story without contacting somebody affiliated with the Ocean State Current were Paul and Al, on 94 HJY, whose morning show on the rock radio station included a song parody inspired by our findings.

Within the article itself, Arditi mentions only a single person associated with the Current.  That would be Mike Stenhouse, who is the CEO of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, the parent organization of this Web siteMike did not conduct any of the research or investigations for these articles, and he did not direct that they be written.  Worse, the only detail about Mike that Arditi finds somehow relevant to the story is that he spent a couple months a few years ago on the payroll of the RIGOP, directing the multi-party Clean Slate initiative. Clean Slate’s goal — of which Mike sought assurances before accepting the job — was to offer at least some alternative to the dominant Democrats, whatever political affiliation that alternative might have.

Truth be told, Arditi doesn’t even give that much detail, saying only that Mike is a “former GOP campaign strategist.”

Next time the Providence Journal is looking to provide a smokescreen for the state government to disguise unambiguously outrageous payroll numbers, it might interest the paper’s journalists to know that I was once arrested, as an early-’90s teenager, for changing the lettering on a movie theater sign in New Jersey.  The judge let me off with a warning, as I recall, so I don’t know that it would be technically accurate to call me an “ex-convict,” but at least the reporter could insinuate that I have a long history of rearranging words.

As to the substance of Arditi’s article, while she does not provide a link to the Current, she does provide one to the Northeastern WatchDog site that ultimately sent us the numbers.  Put in any of the names for which we’ve posted information, and you’ll see that we cited the data exactly as it was given to us, with the one exception that we inferred “regular pay” as “gross pay” minus “overtime pay.”  If the State of Rhode Island hadn’t kept us running in circles for a year before denying our request for this information, perhaps we would have been able to post a more comprehensive and precise set of numbers.

Since we published the articles, public records officials have appeared to be more amenable to working with us, so we will incorporate additional years and update the data that we’ve got, if there’s any difference.  I suspect that there will be little variation, though, inasmuch as other news outlets have published snippets of this information in similar formats: gross pay and overtime pay.

The bottom line, however, is that it would make the pay more outrageous, not less, if the overtime numbers that we were given include things that are really part of standard pay agreements.  It’s one thing for a laundry worker to earn almost $125,000 in a year for working 100 hour weeks, every week, all year. That’s not efficient, because the state is paying time and half where it ought to be paying straight time, but at least the guy was working all those hours for it.

It would be quite another thing if that same laundry worker earns $125,000 while not giving the state so much of his time.  If all of his pay were simply an accumulation of base salary, longevity, and other bonuses for a 40-hour week, would that make you less astonished at the total?

A more important, question, however, arises about Lynn Arditi’s piece in the Providence Journal: How does this article differ in any way from what state officials trying to obscure government excesses would have produced through their own hired-gun communications teams?

Perhaps it would read better to the tune of a Don Henley song.

  • Mike Silvia

    I've read all twelve paragraphs, but I'm still not sure why Ms. Arditi needed to contact you or the OSC? You posted the data, but she directed readers to the real source. She identified where the series of "articles" were posted, the organization responsible for the site, and the organization's founder. Maybe you're upset that your name wasn't mentioned?

    I certainly understand why you resort to sensationalism. It's the only way to entice readers to your bombastic diatribes. Unfortunately, Ms. Arditi did the one thing you continuously fail to do — she got to the damn point!

  • Dan

    Mike – It's irresponsible journalism to solicit comment from one side of a story but not the other. Suppose the Projo published an anonymous accusation that you speed down quiet neighborhood streets at night and didn't even ask for your side. As if that isn't bad enough, the author doesn't even name the officials who supposedly said the numbers were inflated, nor is any attempt made to explain how they are inflated.

  • Mike,

    You'd have some semblance of a point if Arditi were just copying my work for a story on the numbers, or even building on it, as some of her peers have done on other topics. Not being included then would be worth a chuckle and maybe an amused Tweet.

    But people who receive all of their news from the Providence Journal would have not heard anything at all about this story until Arditi's article, and the thrust of her coverage isn't about the "you paid for it" story of government expenditures. Rather, the thrust is that government agents insinuate that the numbers are not accurate. The headline is "Overtime reports inflated, say R.I. officials."

    If that's what the Providence Journal wants its readers to expect from a regional paper of record, I guess that's their call and their business model.

    • Mike Silvia

      I'd say you have some semblance of a point, but there are people who receive all of their news from the OSC or FOX. And fair and balanced are not terms I would use to describe these "news" sources :)

      On the flip, I will admit the Providence Journal article left me wanting more. Perhaps there will be pressure to deliver it now?

  • John Cordeiro

    Do people want these employees to work overtime hours for free?

  • Monique

    BRAVO every word of this post! Note that there was NO REFUTATION in the article of the fact that the state is paying some laundry workers over $100,000/year and some nurses over $250,000/year.

    But rather than report on this outrageous mismanagement … no, SQUANDERING of tax dollars – and one that has gone on for MANY YEARS, this "reporter" chose to try to shield or excuse it with a seriously misleading headline. Shame!

    We NEED a good, inquisitive press. This article represents the product of the antithesis.

    Here are some of the follow-up questions that should have been asked in lieu of an article that, as Justin said, appears to have been written by a state p.r. person: why did the state chose to ignore requests for this data for ONE YEAR? Was it so they would ensure that the data would not come out completely accurate, thereby furnishing themselves the ability to dismiss it? How have we had $100,000/year laundry people and $250,000+ year nurses on the payroll year after year and NO ONE IN STATE GOV'T NOTICE OR QUESTION IT? Are there state employees in other departments receiving such outrageously high compensation?

  • John Cordeiro

    The same folks that are complaining about excess overtime are the same that complain we have too many state employees. Which is it going to be folks? You can either have adequate staffing or high overtime hours. You choose.

  • Dan

    John – False dichotomy. Parkinson's Law – The amount of work expands to fill the time allowed for it.

  • Mike Silvia

    That's not been my experience. Ever been to an emergency care unit at a local hospital?

  • Monique

    Mike Silvia: No one would argue that specific point. The problem is that most public jobs don't involve the emergency room.

  • Phil Spadola

    After reading the Providence Journal story I came away with the impression that the numbers for overtime earnings published by the Ocean Current were incorrect. You admit as much and should publish an explanation of how you got it wrong. Rather than picking a fight about not being interviewed for this article, perhaps you should feel fortunate that your name was not used in the newspaper article. The newspaper article also left the impression that the numbers used in the Current were years old and that it would seem that there is not the kind of overtime payments being made at present. Does the Current plan on addressing this?

    • Phil,

      The impression that the Projo gave you was just plain wrong, and I've never said otherwise. That is why I objected to Arditi's article. It is the Providence Journal that should issue a correction. We published the numbers exactly as the state reports them. What government operatives are now claiming is that "overtime" covers additional payments that are not overtime. But (1) "overtime" is how they reported them, and (2) if it is not overtime (i.e., not extra pay for extra hours), that only makes the totals more objectionable.

      We published FY11 data, because that is all that was available to us. If the state had provided the numbers, rather than strung us along and then denied our request, perhaps we would have been able to post more recent data. We plan to do so as soon as the state complies with the public records laws, hopefully within a week or two. I look forward to checking the assertions of government officials with regard to FY12.

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