WARWICK, RI — Mayor Frank Picozzi said $43,984.32 in early medical benefits paid to former Councilman Steven Merolla since 2021 were the city’s fault, an error made by a Personnel Department employee.
“The personnel department did it erroneously. They were completely wrong,” Picozzi said Friday afternoon.
Also, Picozzi said Merolla did not fraudulently seek the payments as part of his early retirement. “I’ve never said that,” Picozzi said.
“It’s great to hear that they’re admitting that they made a mistake.It would have been nice to have it be accompanied by an apology to me and my family for the trauma it’s caused,” Merolla said Friday.
Picozzi said he is still duty-bound to seek restitution for the erroneous payments.
“That’s not acceptable to me and my family for an error they made,” Merolla said.
Merolla said had he known he wasn’t grandfathered in to receive medical coverage at 55 instead of 60, he could have made other plans to secure health insurance for himself and his family. Instead, he took 50 percent of his pension and a 50 percent co-pay for medical coverage, the latter or which has left him with an unfair debt he intends to fight in court.
Picozzi said he learned of the improper medical payments when another former councilman applied for his own retirement this year. The councilman, whom Picozzi declined to identify, had a letter similar to one Merolla had been given in 2018 telling him he couldn’t receive health coverage until he turned 60. That reminded the personnel department employee of Merolla’s retirement medical benefits, which they then realized had been approved in error.
The only former councilman to have filed for retirement since Merolla was Gene Kelly, who served for six years. He decided not to run for reelection in 2000. His retirement in Sept. 1, 2022 was approved in Sept. 21, 2022 by the Warwick retirement board. Merolla’s retirement, starting Feb. 1, 2021, was also approved by the Retirement Board, on March 18, 2021, which Robert Cushman pointed out earlier this week.
Picozzi declined to identify the personnel department staffer who made the error in Merolla’s retirement and could not speak about any possible discipline of that person related to the error, since it is a personnel matter.
Picozzi noted the 2018 letter Merolla received, a copy of which his office forwarded to Warwick Post, did inform him he was only eligible for medical coverage in retirement after age 60. When asked to comment on Merolla’s statement that he was operating on the latest information provided to him by the city when he retired in 2021, “I don’t know what to make of that,” Picozzi said.
Merolla said he wasn’t at the Retirement Board meeting when his retirement was approved, so he can’t speak to whether his medical coverage was part of the package approved at that time. But he did receive paperwork approving it, both from the personnel department and the Retirement Board, with signatures, he said.
Picozzi said the Retirement Board votes on pensions only, not on retirement benefits, such as medical insurance.
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