We are saddened at the death of Heather Sapienza of Lawrence, who final days of life were made more difficult and troubled by a mayor who cares more about cutting deals for his cronies than extending a helping hand to ordinary people.
Sapienza died last week after a 19-month fight with cancer. We extend our deep sympathy to her family and friends.
Most people understand that a fight against cancer or any major illness is emotionally as well as financially draining. A life’s savings are eaten away quickly by medical bills, even for those who have good insurance coverage. The financial stress adds another layer of worry to concerns over treatment and an uncertain future.
Tom Sapienza wanted to be with his wife to help her with these burdens. So he took all the vacation and sick time he could from his job with the Lawrence Department of Public Works, where he drove plows and maintained Veterans Memorial Stadium for $18 per hour. That paid time off amounted to two months and ran out in August. So Tom Sapienza then went on unpaid leave.
That leave was extended several times but DPW Commissioner John Isensee says he advised Mayor William Lantigua that he couldn’t go on covering Sapienza’s job with temporary workers indefinitely.
On the Monday after Thanksgiving, Lantigua fired Sapienza from the job he had held for eight years.
In fairness, there are private sector businesses that would not tolerate a worker’s absence for more than the 12 weeks mandated under the Family and Medical Leave Act. But this is Lawrence, where until recently there were three police officers — one of them the deputy chief — being paid to stay home on administrative leave. Officer Daron Fraser, convicted of a domestic violence charge, was scheduled to return to work last week after 29 months out of work during which he was paid more than $150,000.