Here’s the takeaway from Smithfield’s pay-raise scandal, which has slipped into history now that District Attorney Susan Doyle has announced she will file no criminal charges: If your town manager is under the influence of medication and unable to recall what he did or didn’t do, it’s fine for employees to receive or grant themselves large pay raises against town council orders.
Such behavior was made easier, the district attorney says, by lax town policies that failed to provide a system of checks and balances to “prevent such reckless acts of greed by town employees.”
This is, really, one of the sorriest chapters in Smithfield’s long history.
Even the good news – the departure of the scandal’s key players – is hard to digest. Yes, the Town Council fired then-town manager Eric Williams but eventually wrote him a $30,000 check to go away. Debbie Godwin, town clerk at the time, left the town’s employ, but before doing so, she made the Town Council promise not to say any disparaging words about her. That no doubt made it easier for Godwin to land a state government job. And the payroll clerk who entered the pay raises retired, but she did so with her benefits in tact.
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This is hardly the justice Smithfield taxpayers deserve. The scandal cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in raises and legal bills, and they will never recover a dime of that money.
So what hope, if any, can Smithfield taxpayers take in the scandal’s aftermath?
The Town Council has supposedly tweaked its policies to provide checks and balances and to end abuses of compensation practices. That’s encouraging.
We also hope the Town Council will give more thought to future hiring decisions and that it will impress upon town managers current and future the importance of their hiring decisions.
Because in the end, here’s another takeaway from the pay-raise scandal: It is likely human nature to be tempted to take money that doesn’t belong to us. The key is to hire people who won’t give into temptation.