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.

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