Who's responsible for the $256 million unfunded liability in the city's local police and fire pension plan?
If you ask Cranston's Democratic City Committee Chairman Michael Sepe, the blame lies squarely on Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung.
In a heated press release — something Sepe is known for — Sepe calls Fung the "Great Procrastinator" in a jab referencing President Ronald Reagan's nickname as the "Great Communicator."
"For the past eight years (four as councilman and four as mayor), [Fung] was well aware of the looming crisis regarding the city's unfunded pension liability," Sepe wrote. "Yet, he chose to sit on his hands, neither saying anything nor doing anything about a problem that had — and still has — the potential to bankrupt the city."
Sepe said Fung has squandered his personal popularity at a time when the pension challenge looms large over the city and could have done more to address the problem sooner. And, Sepe said, Fung frustratingly rebuffed the city's unions two years ago when union officials "wanted to sit down with him and open the lines of communication to see if there was a solution to our critical problem."
In response, Gary Vierra, Fung's campaign spokesman, said Sepe's comments "once again show how desperate he is to be relevant in this campaign by making outrageous statements in the hope that he'll get someones attention."
Vierra said Sepe's statements fails to acknowledge the work Fung has done at the state level as the only municipal leader on the state's Pension Advisory Group and that he is a member of the Municipal Pension Study Commission.
Instead of working with the mayor, "Sepe and his Democrat minions sat silent as Mayor Fung was calling for state enabling legislation to suspend costly COLAs," Vierra said. "His Democrat majority also failed to pass a Republican resolution to support the Governor's municipal reform legislation."
"Mike Sepe knows well, or should know, that the unfunded pension liability is a decades old problem caused by a bipartisan group of politicians and public employee labor unions," said Gary Vierra, Fung for Mayor Spokesperson. "Sepe should know this because as a former City Council President he was unable to reduce the City's unfunded pension liability."
Vierra suggested the Sepe release was an effort to cloud the issue, especially since two of the City Council candidates this year, John E. Lanni Jr. and Maro Aceto were part of the council in 2002 when the council voted to "use up nearly the entire pension fund of the City of Cranston to plug budget holes resulting from incompetent leadership of the Democratic controlled City Council and then-Democratic Mayor John O'Leary."
Sepe was party chair at the time and "did not say one word in opposition to this horrible raid on the city's pension fund."
"If that's Sepe's idea of addressing the unfunded pension liability, then he needs to retake some basic accounting and management courses," said Vierra. "He'll soon realize the way to resolve this issue is to tell his Democrats on the City Council to support Mayor Fung's plan to freeze COLAs for ten years."
Sepe said Fung, who met with retirees recently to talk about the failing pension plan and has proposed freezing COLAs for 10 years, among other measures, contacted him on the day of the meeting asking if he'd be willing to meet.
Sepe claims he told Fung he'd be happy to meet.
"I haven't heard from him since," Sepe said. "He wants to have a solution by December of this year. Sure, he wants a solution. Everyone knows that he’s going to run for a high state office in two years. He’s had eight years to bring about change and now he wants to do it in two months with a lame duck city council and union retirees who don’t trust him as far as they can throw him. If he drags his feet on this one, he’s going to need a new pair of shoes and a one way ticket out of town."