Mayor Jon Mitchell has rejected a city council petition establishing that all COVID-19 deaths among city employees are work-related, thus qualifying surviving family members for additional death benefits. The well-intended council action followed the death of veteran police officer Sgt. Michael Cassidy last spring. Cassidy's widow is eligible for 70 percent of his pension. Had Cassidy died in the line of duty, she would receive 100 percent of his death benefits.

Cassidy became a cop in 1994. During his 27-year career with the New Bedford Police Department, Cassidy served as a patrolman, worked in narcotics, firearms, and criminal investigations. He earned two New Bedford Life Saving Awards, including one in 2018 for saving a woman's life at Market Basket. He was also a U.S. Marine serving in Operation Desert Storm and was awarded numerous commendations and citations for his service.

The city council's heart is in the right place. Bills are pending at the state and federal level to treat COVID deaths among first responders as line-of-duty deaths. I supported the council's petition to assist Cassidy's family and other city workers who might die from COVID – but Mitchell's case against the petition is solid.

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The Standard-Times reported Mitchell sent the petition back to the council, citing several "flaws." First, Mitchell wants to know, had Cassidy refused a COVID vaccine "found to be nearly 100% effective in preventing death?" Second, did Cassidy actually contract COVID while performing his duties as a police officer, or while attending a social or family gathering? Third, Mitchell said the council petition would allow for more generous death benefits for police and firefighters than for other city employees who die from COVID.

Mitchell's decision to reject the petition will not be popular with some but it is well reasoned. Certainly, the city should pay generous death benefits for any employee who contracts COVID while on the job and then dies as a result. Right now, though, the lines are blurry and the rules need to be more clearly defined.

Mitchell's job is to protect the interests of the taxpayer and he appears to do that with this decision.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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