State Police Raises and “Neutral” Arbitration in Rhode Island

In today’s Providence Journal, Katherine Gregg reports a previously undisclosed arbitration award giving state police officers, ranked sergeant or below, 10% raises over three years — with two of those years retroactive.  The award was made on July 7.

Gregg provides a digital copy of the agreement at the bottom of the page at that link, and scrolling to the signature page, one can see a designated arbitrator for the state, a designated arbitrator for the union, and a “neutral arbitrator and panel chair.”  In this case, that “neutral arbitrator” is Vincent F. Ragosta, Jr.

Those who’ve read the Rhode Island State Police report about problems in the Cranston Police Department will recognize Ragosta as a key piece of the evidence that Mayor Allan Fung should have known better than to allow the Cranston PD to spin so out of control.*  For instance, on page 57, after presenting lengthy quotes praising Ragosta from a 2007 letter to the editor from then-City Councilman Fung, the report states:

Attorney Ragosta advised he was surprised when Mayor Fung had not consulted with him to prosecute the Patalano LEOBOR case in 2011, since he had prosecuted all the Department’s LEOBOR hearings for the past thirty-one (31) years.  Attorney Ragosta advised that if he had been consulted two (2) years ago about the case, he would have most likely concluded that it did not warrant charging and prosecution.  Attorney Ragosta said this possibly was the reason the case was not originally brought to his attention.  Attorney Ragosta stated that Mayor Fung never consulted with him over the years as the case continued without adjudication.

My read of the State Police report is that it is heavily biased in a way that’s designed to reflect well on the two State Police officers who ran the Cranston PD for the better part of a year, on their politically appointed boss at the State Police, Colonel Steven O’Donnell, and on their former colleague who is now the chief of the Cranston PD, Michael Winquist.  It also sets up Winquist to have a significant political advantage over his supervisor, Mayor Fung.  The fact that, while the officers were writing their report, Ragosta was acting as a neutral arbitrator for the State Police union is yet another piece of evidence that readers should not take the report at face value.

It’s important to note that none of the officers involved with the report are covered by the raise that Ragosta’s panel awarded, because their ranks are all above sergeant.  I’ve requested copies of their contracts to see if there’s any direct link in pay to the lower-ranking officers, but even if there is not, it’s difficult to believe that higher-paid subordinates would not make their superiors’ negotiations easier when their turn comes around.  Apart from direct pay, securing raises for employees has workplace advantages for the command staff.

And of course, there’s this cherry on top, offered as a footnote on page 22 of the arbitration award (emphasis added):

Purely as a side note worthy of mention, the panel is aware from public sources that Colonel Steven G. O’Donnell, who serves in the dual role of Rhode Island’s Superintendent of State Police and Director of Public Safety, earns an annual salary of $148,937.00.  Massachusetts divides those positions between two persons, with its superintendent earning $216,184.54 and its director of public safety earning $134,557.10.  Connecticut likewise splits these positions between two persons, with its superintendent and director of public safety earning $177,194.44 and $178,000.00 respectively.  Perhaps it is time for Colonel O’Donnell to have his annual salary augmented to at least be more closely aligned with his bordering counterparts.

Two notes on this friendly “side note”:

  1. The superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police oversees a state that is nine times bigger than Rhode Island, with six times the population and six times the number of sworn officers under his command (those with arrest powers).  In Connecticut, the ratios are five, three, and eleven.
  2. According to RIOpenGov’s payroll module, between regular pay and “other pay,” O’Donnell has made around $170,000 every year for the past three.


* In the statement from Chief Winquist included toward the end of the report, the Cranston Ragosta is named as “Vincent A. Ragosta, Jr.,” but that appears to be an error.

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