WARWICK, R.I. — Warwick Mayor Frank J. Picozzi, his chief of staff, finance director, and press secretary have gone nearly a year and a half without having their medical insurance premiums deducted from their weekly paychecks, his press secretary said Monday.
Picozzi, who took office in January 2021, took to Facebook on Thursday, saying, “This morning it was brought to my attention that some members of my staff and department directors who came on board at the beginning of my term have not had our co-pays for our medical coverage deducted from our weekly paychecks.”
The deductions, which are made as part of cost sharing for employee health insurance, should have started in February 2021, he said.
“It seems that it was missed because the person responsible for initiating it was out due to COVID,” Picozzi wrote. “I never noticed it personally because my pay is deposited electronically, and I never look at what’s deducted.”
Picozzi said the deductions will begin immediately under repayment plans for him and the other employees. “I’m putting this out publicly because I believe in full disclosure and transparency,” he wrote.
On Monday, the mayor’s press secretary, Elizabeth Tufts, provided details in response to a Globe inquiry.
She said Picozzi, city finance director of finance Peder A. Schaefer, and chief of staff Susan Nahabedian each owe $5,000 under family health insurance plans, and Tufts said she owes $2,000 under an individual health plan. She said they all started working for the city on the same day.
The city treasurer, Lynne Prodger, brought the matter to Picozzi’s attention, Tufts said. The city is not releasing the name of the person, referenced in Picozzi’s Facebook post, who was out with COVID at the time, she said.
All four employees have signed a repayment plan, agreeing that double the normal premium will be deducted until the amounts owed are paid off, Tufts said. If their employment ends first, the full amount will become due, she said.
“A check is being done on all other employees to ensure this mistake hasn’t happened with other employees,” Tufts said. The city’s information technology department “is creating a better system,” she said.
“The mayor will not be commenting beyond this,” Tufts said.
Picozzi received some praise for his announcement on Facebook.
“Thank you for your honesty,” Micky Kotkofski wrote. “No one would have known...except God. Good for you!”
“It’s good to be open about it,” Christopher Cioe wrote. “I think it raises valid questions about reconciling and auditing citywide. Humans make mistakes, it’s unavoidable, but ideally there’s redundancies to catch it like this instance. Ideally for every city department. This way nobody can claim it’s fraud or misconstrue it to be anything else other than a mistake.”
But Picozzi’s post also drew some skepticism and criticism.
“I find it concerning that you, your staff and directors have such little attention to detail,” Mary-Ann McCurry wrote. “If you don’t realize such a mistake in your own paycheck, how is there any attention to detail in management of the city? You had no choice but to be forth coming. After all, you had to try to get in front of it.”
Rob Cote, a Warwick resident who often speaks at City Council meetings, questioned why Picozzi and the others are getting 16 months to pay the money back after receiving 16 months of “gold plated” health insurance. “If I was $5,000 behind on my sewer bill, would the city put me on a payment plan?” he asked. “No, they’d put my house up for tax sale, and I’d have to pay the full amount with interest and penalties, but the mayor gets special treatment.”
Cote also questioned why Picozzi, who receives a $100,000 salary, and the others can’t pay back the full amount all at once. “Are these people so fiscally dysfunctional that they don’t have 5 grand to make the city whole?” he said. “If he’s making $100,000 and doesn’t have $5,000, this guy doesn’t deserve to be the mayor of the Monopoly game, for God’s sake.”
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.