A fresh overview of the Pellegrino case.
There is a great internet resource designed primarily for practicing attorneys called FindLaw.com. However, it can occasionally offer up information useful to the general public on court cases that may not have received all of the attention they really deserved. Such omissions are commonplace in our local media.
I was recently intrigued to read FindLaw's account of one of the most infamous legal scandals of the Albano mayoralty, the matter involving alleged double-dipping by former Springfield Parking Authority Director Kathleen Pelligrino, the matriarch of Springfield's politically high profile Pelligrino family. Her husband was a judge, and her son Raipher was a City Councilor once thought to have a promising career before he got booted from office by voters concerned about his increasingly close relationships with some of the bad boys of the Albano era.
According to Findlaw, here was the crux of the controversy:
On August 17, 2001, Pellegrino entered into two virtually identical personal services contracts, one of which was between her, the city, and the SPA (the city-SPA contract), and the other between only her and the SPA (the SPA contract). Pursuant to the city-SPA contract, it appears to have been intended that Pellegrino be an employee of the city, which paid her salary, while the SPA was required to "reimburse" the city for the full amount of this salary. A principal goal of the arrangement was to entitle Pellegrino to participate in the city retirement program....
After the city announced an early retirement incentive program for its employees, Pellegrino asserted her status as a city employee. While continuing to provide the identical services to the SPA, she took early retirement from the city and proceeded to collect city employee retirement benefits as governed by G. L. c. 32, in the amount of $54,588 annually. At the same time, she collected her SPA salary directly from the SPA at the full rate previously paid, such that, after "retirement," Pellegrino's pay increased to approximately $145,963 per year.
A public uproar ensued over the fact that a public employee could "retire" from the city, yet continue to go to work and collect her pay! The matter was further inflamed when it was discovered that most of the work done by the parking authority was contracted out to a private company, leaving in question whether Pellegrino's position was even needed or whether she actually did anything to earn her generous salary.
I knew Kathleen Pelligrino a little bit, and liked her. She was a friend of Kateri Walsh, whom I used to appear regularly with on the WHYN radio show The Reporters Roundtable starring Kateri Walsh. I found Pellegrino to be intelligent, professional and friendly. She had also been something of a local feminist pioneer, holding a number of achievements unusual for women, especially in the educational field. So when the scandal first broke I could hardly believe that it was the same Kathleen Pelligrino. It just didn't sound like the sort of financially sleazy affair she would be involved in.
However, when I saw her being interviewed on TV there was no denying it was Kateri's friend. When the reporter mentioned that her arrangement might be unfair to the taxpayers, Pellegrino looked genuinely startled, as if the fact that the interests of the taxpayers were involved had never occurred to her! So ingrained was the culture of greed, privilege and corruption that she was oblivious to the possibility that there were any moral issues involved.
Even worse, her feminist background caused her to further embarrass herself by arguing that it was okay for her to collect two checks because there were male city employees before her who had done the same. She did not identify those employees, nor did the local media reveal them, but I'm certain they existed. Only in Springfield during the Albano era could she argue that she was a victim of sexual discrimination because she was denied the opportunity to be as sleazy as a male appointee! She tried to sue the city but was slapped down by the court which proclaimed:
G. L. c. 32, § 91, "reflects a clear policy that an employee of a governmental unit in Massachusetts generally may not retire, receive a pension, accept employment elsewhere in the government, and, by combining her pension and her new compensation, make more money than if she had not retired."
Kathleen Pelligrino became an object of derision and scorn who was widely ridiculed as "Klepto Pellegreedo." While her public humiliation was in some ways deserved, she was more the victim of a culture of greed that had existed in city government long before she attempted to "retire." It was simply her misfortune to have been the person that brought that culture of greed out into the open.
I regret that I was unable to attend the inauguration ceremonies yesterday for Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno. However, I had an appointment with my drug rehab councilor yesterday morning and couldn't cancel it just to listen to some politician's flowery speeches.
However, it wasn't the flowery speeches I wanted to go hear. I wanted to see who was in the audience! That is a far more reliable way to judge what the Sarno Administration will be like - not by who is onstage, but by who felt it politically necessary to be in the room! Oh well, there will opportunities aplenty in the coming days to take the measure of the Sarno era. In the meantime, for the highlights of what happened on stage, check out this Bill Dusty video.