EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 3, 2013

Editorial: Coddling of public employees defies logic

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — After paying him to do nothing for more than two years, the people of Lawrence may finally get a day’s work out of police Officer Daron Fraser.

Fraser was placed on paid administrative leave in July 2010 after being arrested and charged in Haverhill with assaulting his then girlfriend. Fraser was convicted of domestic assault and battery in February 2011. Following his conviction, police Chief John Romero called for Fraser to be fired.

But the decision on firing Fraser belonged to Mayor William Lantigua, who did nothing as the officer remained on paid leave and continued to collect paycheck after paycheck for not working. All the while, Fraser continued to accrue vacation and sick time as well as retirement benefits. Fraser was paid more than $150,000 for doing nothing.

Last August, a termination hearing officer recommended that Fraser be allowed to keep his job after serving a three-month suspension without pay. Lawyer Robert Leblanc, serving as the hearing officer, noted that, while a domestic violence conviction made Fraser ineligible to possess a firearm under federal law, “carrying a gun is not in the job description of a police officer.”

Lantigua ordered Fraser to serve a three-month, unpaid suspension beginning in early October. Fraser is eligible to return to work today.

Romero said that Fraser will be assigned to dispatch duties.

Once again, the coddling of public employees defies common sense.

In Fraser, we have a police officer convicted of domestic violence, who cannot carry a gun, whom his chief would prefer to fire, who was paid for more than two years to do nothing and will now be paid a police officer’s salary to do a job that rightly should be done by a civilian dispatcher at a lower rate.

And Fraser is not the public employee in the city to collect a paycheck for no work. In Lawrence, that’s practically a job description in itself.

Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla and Officer P.J. Lopez, are both under indictment yet still collecting their paychecks.

Bonilla was indicted in September on felony charges connected to an ongoing investigation into Lantigua and his administration. Bonilla is accused of swapping 13 city-owned vehicles for four Chevrolets with a Lantigua friend. The state Inspector General said the city lost $30,000 in the deal.

Bonilla was Lantigua’s campaign manager and was promoted from sergeant to deputy chief after Lantigua became mayor in January 2010.

Also in September, Lopez was indicted by a federal grand jury and is accused of making arrangements with a tow company to have cars he ticketed towed in exchange for a “stream of benefits” including a $4,000 snow plow. He faces charges of bribery, making false statements to a federal agent and obstruction of justice in connection with an unnamed towing company in Lawrence.

Bonilla earns $140,000 annually and Lopez makes $62,000 per year. That’s a lot of money going out the door of a cash-strapped City Hall for no work.

Yet no one is willing to challenge the mayor on this wasteful spending. The City Council does nothing. And Robert Nunes, the city’s state-appointed financial overseer, claims he has no authority on personnel matters.

In the private sector, these ridiculous practices would never be tolerated. Nor should they be in the public sector. That’s particularly true in Lawrence, where taxpayers statewide are footing the bill for the majority of the city’s operating expenses.