This Week in EG: Council Vote on Corrigan, School Committee Meeting, Turkey Trot

Some turkeys from Pat’s Pastured in East Greenwich. Credit: Pat’s Pastured

A weekly article that lists happenings in East Greenwich and nearby. If you have something you’d like to add, send your information to egreenwichnews@gmail.com.

Monday, Nov. 20

Exploring Mindfulness Meditation – Meditation at East Greenwich Free Library on first and third Mondays. No experience necessary; all are welcome. Free. 6:30 p.m. at the library. For more information about this program or the Friends of the Library, contact: friendseglibrary@gmail.com

Town Council meeting: This is a special session scheduled to respond to the ruling by Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl earlier this month nullifying the council’s appointment in June of Gayle Corrigan as town manager. The agenda states the council will: first, appoint Corrigan town manager; second, ratify her contract; and third, ratify all her actions as town manager since her now-nullified appointment June 19. At 7 p.m. in the auditorium at EGHS.

Tuesday, Nov. 21

School Committee meeting: On the agenda is a discussion of the district’s fund balance and the feasibility of new hires, including a director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum). In the library at Cole Middle School starting at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 22

No School – A professional development day for EG public school teachers.

Lunch on the Hill – If you are looking for some good food and company, stop by the dining room at St. Luke’s Church on Peirce Street where you will find both. A free lunch is offered every week, sponsored by various local churches and restaurants – a different church-restaurant combination each week.From 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.Learn more and check out the full schedule here: Lunch On The Hill Info Sheet.

Thursday, Nov. 23

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, Nov. 25

Hill & Harbour 7th Annual Turkey TrotHere’s the scoop about this great East Greenwich event. Thanks to the Main Street Association for making it happen!

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is OFF this week. Yard waste will be picked up.

Register for email updates from the town – Sign up through the town’s Notify Me system and you can receive anything from a weekly email listing meetings and events to targeted emails about specific boards and commissions you are interested in. In addition, you will be notified in case of emergencies (i.e. parking bans, other important information). Click here to get started. And, for those who signed up before August, revisit the link if you have specific topics about which you’d like more information.

December Holiday Meals – The town’s Senior Services offers holiday meals to needy residents. The deadline to sign up is Wednesday, Dec. 6. To see if you are eligible and to register, contact Carol Tudino at ctudino@eastgreenwichri.com or 401-886-8638.

LOOKING AHEAD

Town Council Meets Monday at EGHS for Corrigan Vote

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The Town Council will meet Monday, Nov. 20, in the auditorium at EGHS to vote on appointing Gayle Corrigan as town manager. Here’s the agenda.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl issued a harshly critical ruling of East Greenwich that ordered the town reinstate firefighter James Perry (fired by Corrigan in August) and nullified the June 19 appointment of Gayle Corrigan as town manager.

The judge granted the town a “stay” (a pause in her ruling) that expires on Tuesday to fix that nullification. Hence the Town Council meeting on Monday. The council tried to complete this task at a meeting Nov. 14 but they failed to secure a space large enough for the number of people who showed up to attend so that meeting was cancelled just minutes after it was to begin.

Meanwhile, the agenda for Monday’s meeting lists a number of actions taken by Corrigan since June 19, but only selected actions. For instance, Corrigan’s decision to hire an Ohio consultant to present a fiscal analysis of firefighter collective bargaining agreements is not included on the agenda.

In addition, the agenda lists one item to be ratified Monday from the Oct. 23 Town Council meeting that never appeared on the Oct. 23 agenda – the approval to hire a search firm for a new fire chief.

Friday evening, Town Council President Sue Cienki sent out a letter that blamed former Town Manager Tom Coyle and former Fire Chief Russell McGillivray for everything from incorrect cost calculations to discriminatory hiring practices. She said these things were done without the knowledge of this and previous Town Councils. While she did not say explicitly that she would be voting to approve Corrigan as town manager, she did write, “I encourage my colleagues to join me in renewing our commitment….”

At least one of her colleagues, Councilman Mark Schwager, has come out against Corrigan, urging her to resign (Schwager press release).

Councilman Nino Granatiero said Friday he was using the extra time before the Monday meeting keep learning.

“I’m using the time to still consider the matter,” he said. “There plusses and minuses to everything – to Gayle Corrigan and her skill set and her demeanor and everything she’s done over the past few months. There’s pluses and minuses to starting over. I’m using the time … to make sure I make the best possible decision for the town.”

He declined to say how he would be voting.

Meanwhile, opposition to Corrigan’s appointment continues unabated from Nov. 14, where the vast majority of attendees appeared to want council members not to appoint Corrigan. The new group Engaged EG issued what they called Part 1 of a response to Cienki’s letter (Engaged EG Cienki Response Part I), which calls into question her claim that taxes have risen “unsustainably” since 2000. [Ed. Note: The last sentence in this paragraph has been changed since the story was posted.]

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. The EGHS auditorium holds more than 700 people and overflow can be accommodated in the cafeteria.

If you’d like to learn more about what’s been happening in East Greenwich and why, check out the East Greenwich News two-part story – find part one here and part two here.

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DII Semifinals: North Kingstown 56, East Greenwich 7

Text and Photos By Mary MacIntosh

EG was no match for dominant NK skippers in the DII semifinals to Friday night. North Kingstown Skippers will play the Moses Brown Quakers (who inched out the Westerly Bulldogs 17-13 in their semifinal game Friday) in the Division II Superbowl on Dec. 3.

NK celebrates semifinal win.

This isn’t the end of play for the Avengers, however. The traditional non-league Thanksgiving Day game will be played Thursday at 10 a.m. against Exeter-West Greenwich on EGHS Carcieri Field.

What Is Happening in East Greenwich, and Why? Part 2

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Council President Sue Cienki, center, during a Town Council meeting in June. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan is to her left and Councilman Sean Todd is to her right.

Tensions have been building for months in East Greenwich as town officials have made layoffs, fired employees and have pointed the finger at EG firefighters as the source of the town’s alleged looming fiscal crisis. Then, on Nov. 8, Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl issued a harshly-worded ruling against the town, nullifying the appointment of Town Manager Gayle Corrigan for what McGuirl called the town’s “willful” violations of the Open Meetings Act. The judge also ordered the town to reinstate firefighter James Perry, who Corrigan had fired in August. When the Town Council gathering Nov. 14 to address the issues raised by McGuirl’s ruling – most importantly, to vote on Corrigan as town manager – the meeting was abruptly cancelled because the meeting space could not accommodate dozens of additional residents who wanted to attend. In Part Two, we bring things up to present day. Find Part One here. – Editor’s note

While there were hints of unease in the months leading up to Gayle Corrigan’s appointment as town manager June 19, the town went into full-fledged turmoil after she dismissed three employees and hired her consulting partner and an acquaintance to fill two of those jobs. Accusations and counter-accusations went back and forth on social media seemingly round the clock, with threads on the most popular (if contentious) Facebook page, East Greenwich Parents for Excellence, containing 60 comments or more.

The crowd at Monday’s Town Council meeting July 24 included many union members sporting “One Team EG” shirts.

Many town and school employees, all of whom are unionized, decided to attend the Town Council meeting July 10 – the first since the personnel changes – in a show of solidarity. The meeting, held at Town Hall, was packed upstairs and down with residents and union members (and some who were both). Many wore bright blue t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “One Team,” a play off of the Town Council’s adopted “One Town” philosophy. The crowd was noisy and unwieldy in the confines of the historic building. Before the meeting had gotten past the second item on the agenda, the entire meeting devolved, with those in attendance complaining they couldn’t hear and asking that the meeting be moved to a larger venue. Council President Cienki abruptly adjourned the meeting, citing the fire marshal’s ruling the building was overcrowded, but not before getting into a shouting match with one man in the balcony who later was identified as an employee from the National Education Association of R.I.

Immediately after the meeting, the town published individual employee salary information on its website (town councilors also distributed the info sheet to people as they left Town Hall). The information is no longer available on the website but it highlighted those employees who earned the most in 2016 – including several firefighters and police by name (both fire and police can accrue lots of extra money in a given year by working overtime). While this was public information, opponents of Cienki-Corrigan saw it as an attempt to sow division.

Town Council meetings moved to Swift Community Center (capacity 253) after that.

‘Acting Town Manager’

From the moment Gayle Corrigan was named acting town manager on June 19, residents complained that her appointment did not conform with the Town Charter, which states that a “town officer” must be appointed to the job – in other words, an existing employee. In 2014, when Bill Sequino announced he was leaving the town manager job in 2014, the Town Council picked then-Police Chief Tom Coyle to serve as interim (he was later hired on to fill the permanent position). When Sequino was hired in 1988 (yes, he served for 26 years), the then-public works director had been filling in as town manager.

Corrigan was not an employee of the town at the time of her appointment; she was a consultant. But the town solicitor, David D’Agostino, argued that the charter was not clear about exactly who was a town officer and that ultimately the Town Council had the authority to act as it saw fit. (Later, Judge McGuirl would question that logic but she did not include that in her reasoning to nullify Corrigan’s appointment.)

After Corrigan’s appointment, President Cienki said the action was temporary and the council would start a search for a permanent town manager right away. And, in fact, discussion of the town manager position was listed on the agenda for the aborted July 10 meeting. It was back on the agenda July 24, but instead of discussing a search, Solicitor D’Agostino stunned many in the audience when he recommended the council vote to drop the “acting” from Corrigan’s title. He reasoned that the word “acting” was problematic and perhaps should never have been used in the first place.

After a brief discussion, during which Cienki promised that a search for a permanent town manager would still take place, the council voted to remove “acting” from Corrigan’s title. The erstwhile town manager search reappeared on later agendas, with Councilman Nino Granatiero tasked with pulling together a search committee. Cienki in October said yes to a search but said she wants Corrigan to finish her job, and in early November Granatiero said the job search for a new manager was real, if not yet active.

An Early Saturday Morning Meeting

In August, a Town Council agenda appeared on the town’s website for a meeting to be held Saturday morning, Aug. 19, with a single item: naming an interim fire chief. The agenda appeared the same day Council President Cienki sent a letter out on the town’s email list that spoke about the hard work the council had been doing and mentioned some challenges ahead. Among those challenges, “a fire department that is unique among all town departments in that it overspends its budget every year.”

The reason the council needed to appoint an interim fire chief, Cienki said, was to follow the Town Charter, which states that the council must name an interim chief when the chief is out for an extended period. Fire Chief Russell McGillivray had told Town Manager Corrigan on Aug. 16 that he would be out for two weeks for an unnamed medical issue. As he’d done in the past, the chief authorized the next in command to fill in, in this case Capt. Tom Mears. (There was no deputy chief – the town having decided to leave that post vacant to save money after the last deputy chief retired last year.) However, the agenda did not indicate who the Town Council would be voting on to serve as interim and Cienki said on the Thursday before the meeting she had no idea who it would be.

People speculated that this was Corrigan’s chance to fire six so-called lateral transfers* – firefighters from other departments who had been hired in August 2016 under former Town Manager Tom Coyle. They were on probation until Aug. 22, after which they would be entitled to more union protection. Corrigan had expressed her feeling that lateral hires were not a good idea. One of the transfers was the former union president from Central Coventry Fire District, where Corrigan served (and still serves) as manager. Another was from another fire district in Coventry and was the brother of EGFD union president Bill Perry. To fire any of them, Corrigan needed the recommendation of the fire chief, as per the charter. Chief McGillivray had not recommended their firing. Maybe another – interim – chief would?

The chambers was filled to capacity for an unusual Town Council meeting Aug. 19 to appoint an acting fire chief while the fire chief was out for a two-week leave.

Despite the early hour, firefighters and residents turned out by the dozens that Saturday. The meeting, however, was anticlimactic and brief. Corrigan recommended Mears to serve as interim and the council approved it unanimously, but not before Councilman Schwager questioned Corrigan and Cienki for the meeting’s unnecessary drama. Later that same Saturday – at 10:18 p.m. according to court testimony – Corrigan sent an email to Bill Perry in his role as union president notifying him that the town was firing his brother, James Perry, for lying on his resume. Corrigan later testified she could fire Perry because the council had only appointed Mears fire chief for operations, not administration, and that she held the administrative duties. Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl would go on to find this reasoning flawed.

A few days after James Perry was fired, Corrigan laid off Bill Perry’s wife, who worked in the finance department, citing lack of work. Laurie Perry was the last person hired in that office, so per union rules she would be the first to go. There was some drama a couple of days later, when the Perrys went to Town Hall to pick up Laurie’s belongings (she had been fired via email, on a day she was not at work). Laurie Perry said she only collected her things. When Finance Director Linda Dykeman (Corrigan’s consulting partner) asked to see what Perry was taking, she refused. Dykeman proceeded to have police issue both Bill and Laurie Perry a No Trespass order for the Finance Department.

Earlier in August, Corrigan had hired back the fire department’s former clerk, Kristen Henrikson, who had sued the fire department for employment discrimination in state and federal courts, losing in both, and had been out on paid leave from 2014 to 2016. Henrikson had received a settlement of $74,000 to give up the clerk job in 2016. Corrigan argued the town owed it to Henrikson to offer her the position.

Pensions Gone Wild?

In the same letter in August where Cienki decried the fire department’s failure to keep to its budget, she also warned of a looming unfunded pension liability of $86 million. EG News investigated the pension situation in East Greenwich and found according to state records that the number was closer to $46 million (including “other post-retirement benefits, or OPEB, Iiabilities, which Cienki included in her number). The difference has to do with the rate of return – Cienki’s prediction was that the pension funds will earn a lower rate of return than the state has predicted. Beyond her warning, Cienki has not indicated a direct remedy – i.e. whether she’d be willing to pay more than the state requires into the system.

Michael Walker of Berkshire Advisors at Monday’s Town Council meeting.

Then, during the Town Council meeting on Aug. 28, Town Manager Corrigan surprised residents attending the meeting when, in place of her Town Manager’s Report, she introduced a consultant from Ohio who she’d hired to analyze the two most recent firefighter contracts. The consultant gave a 25-minute presentation that painted a dire portrait of the contracts’ long-term consequences. However, the consultant did not talk with Fire Chief McGillivray and the analysis did not include such things as the firefighters’ increased pension contribution. In addition, Corrigan’s failure to include the presentation on the agenda resulted in at least two pending Open Meetings Act complaints to the state Attorney General’s office (one of which was filed by East Greenwich News).

In early September, the firefighters union filed suit against the town over the firing of James Perry and several alleged Open Meetings Act violations, including one accusing the town of hiring Corrigan without proper notice. Firefighter lawyer Elizabeth Wiens requested the Perry and OMA issues be consolidated and fast-tracked. Town Solicitor D’Agostino agreed. So, in remarkably speedy fashion, the Superior Court trial was held over five days in late September before Judge Susan McGuirl. Which, faithful reader, means we are just about caught up. You can read about the trial here.

But there are a few more things worth mentioning.

When Corrigan took the stand Sept. 21, she testified that she’d lost confidence in Fire Chief McGillivray. One day later, when the agenda for the Town Council meeting came out, a now-familiar item appeared under the Executive Session portion – the discussion of job performance for an unnamed employee, just as had appeared in June when the council discussed former Town Manager Coyle before his abrupt departure. McGillivray was the unnamed employee, but when the council met Sept. 25, that item had been removed from the agenda with no comment. Later that week, EG News learned a former FBI agent who’d help bring down Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci had been brought in to question McGillivray.

It’s not clear who hired the private investigator but the Town Council has met with lawyer Tim Cavazza in executive session at least twice in recent months. Cavazza is the same lawyer who has defended both North Kingstown and Providence in lawsuits brought by firefighters when those municipalities forced fire departments to go from four platoon systems to three. (North Kingstown won in that court case, although litigation continues. Alternatively, Providence lost.) And Cavazza belongs to the law firm Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder and Siket LLP. Bob Corrente worked with the private investigator when he was U.S. Attorney on the Cianci case and Bob Flanders was Corrigan’s boss in Central Falls and was the one who suggested Corrigan to Cienki.

It wasn’t until Nov. 6, however, that McGillivray was fired (no reasons were given) and former Cape Cod fire chief Christopher Olsen took over as interim at an hourly fee of $65, plus hotel expenses during his tenure (Olsen lives in New Hampshire).

And, remember in Part One, when firefighter union president Bill Perry lodged a complaint against Council President Cienki for threatening language during a meeting in June? Cienki’s words were also directed to firefighter David Gorham, one of the lateral transfers. Gorham had been the former Central Coventry Fire District union president. He was not at the meeting, but Cienki referred to him a “sociopath.” Gorham filed suit against the town and Cienki personally in early November, citing character defamation and sexual harassment.

A resident holds up a sign reading, “Lights on, EG!” from the Nov. 14 meeting that was subsequently cancelled due to crowding.

The Town Council meeting to respond to Judge McGuirl’s ruling will now take place on Monday, Nov. 20 – the original meeting Nov. 14 having been cancelled because the venue wasn’t big enough for all the people who wanted to attend. The new venue, the auditorium at East Greenwich High School, holds 700 and has an overflow area. The council will vote on the appointment of Gayle Corrigan as town manager that night as well as vote to ratify decisions she made before the ruling. The agenda lists the late June personnel decisions but then jumps to October – appearing to list only those decisions that required Town Council approval. Decisions such as the hiring of the Ohio consultant do not appear on the agenda.

Councilman Schwager came out on Friday, Nov. 17, with a press release urging Corrigan to withdraw from consideration.

“To continue to debate hiring Gayle Corrigan as town manager is to continue to disrupt, divide and damage the East Greenwich community. It is time for Corrigan to step aside so the Council can begin to focus on the Town’s business, instead of continuous distractions created by unnecessary confrontations with our town employees, school committee and members of the public,” he wrote.

Then, that same evening, the town sent out an email from President Cienki accusing “the former town manager” and “former fire chief” of “Incorrect cost calculations. Misleading reporting. Cronyism and nepotism. Unapproved agreements. Improper loans. Discriminatory hiring practices.”

Days after Corrigan’s hire, Cienki said, “I think the end result, people are going to be happy.” She has reiterated that view consistently since then.

(Missed Part 1? Find it here.)

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Pull On Your Running Shoes – Annual Turkey Trot Is Just One Week Away

Trotter, the Turkey Trot’s mascot.

It’s been six years since the East Greenwich Main Street Association, a volunteer-run nonprofit, first organized the EG Hill and Harbour Turkey Trot – always the Saturday after Thanksgiving – and it’s become an event that attracts serious runners as well as whole families. After all the focus on food that is Thanksgiving – the Turkey Trot helps us get moving again.

The race this year is Saturday, Nov. 25. The 5K run (on a fully sanctioned course) starts at 8:30 a.m. and the 1 Mile Fun Run for kids starts at 9:30. There will be prizes for top finishers in multiple categories. This  year race proceeds will be donated to COA – Cultural Organization of the Arts, which provides arts programming in EG schools.

This year they will have some youth size shirts (along with adult size) for the 5K and medals for the fun run. There will be a D.J. and treats from Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as face painting and other children’s activities. 

Race day registration and bib pick up is held at the Varnum Armory, 6 Main St.  But you can sign up in advance online here!

 

What Is Happening In East Greenwich, and Why? Part 1

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Tensions have been building for months in East Greenwich as town officials have made layoffs, fired employees and have pointed the finger at EG firefighters as the source of the town’s alleged looming fiscal crisis. Then, on Nov. 8, Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl issued a harshly-worded ruling against the town, nullifying the appointment of Town Manager Gayle Corrigan for what McGuirl called the town’s “willful” violations of the Open Meetings Act. The judge also ordered the town to reinstate firefighter James Perry, who Corrigan had fired in August. When the Town Council gathering Nov. 14 to address the issues raised by McGuirl’s ruling – most importantly, to vote on Corrigan as town manager – the meeting was abruptly cancelled because the meeting space could not accommodate dozens of additional residents who wanted to attend. In this article, we attempt to explain how East Greenwich got to this point. Find Part 2 here.  – Editor’s note

Once upon a time, there was a quiet little town called East Greenwich, with a popular Main Street, good schools, lots of nice houses, and town governance that was so boring most people paid it little heed. Today, Main Street is still popular, the schools are still good, there are still lots of nice houses, but EG’s Town Council meetings have become the hottest ticket in town. So much so that dozens of people were left outside in the cold Tuesday after the meeting site reached its 253-person limit, looking like a line outside a popular nightclub on a Saturday night.

So, what gives, East Greenwich? Why all the excitement?

The election of 2016 is one starting point but since town officials are aiming their ire at the EG Fire Department, it might be better to go back to 2013, when the town still had a Fire District, with its own governance and taxing authority. The Republican-led Town Council then decided the fire district should be consolidated with the town under the reasoning that having separate tax bills was unnecessary in such a small town – EG has around 13,000 residents – and that some amount of cost savings could be found through consolidation. The council put the question to EG voters, who approved of the consolidation by a 2-to-1 margin in a nonbinding referendum.

The governing fire district commissioners did not agree, but after months of meetings between the two governing bodies and permission from the General Assembly,  the EG Fire District became the town fire department in 2014. Then Fire Chief Peter Henrikson retired and the deputy chief, Russell McGillivray, was hired to serve as chief.

Just as that was happening, EG’s town manager since 1988, Bill Sequino, announced he was leaving to take a job with the state. Sequino had served as town manager for 25 years, accumulating just the right balance of longevity and good will by 2014 that his power was enviable. The Town Council named Police Chief Tom Coyle to serve as interim town manager. Coyle, who lived in Coventry, had started with the EGPD as a patrolman, working his way up through the ranks. When the interview process for a permanent town manager came along, Coyle threw his hat in the ring and the council hired him.

Police Chief Steve Brown with then-Town Manager Tom Coyle.

Coyle spent long hours in his new position and he was well liked. Under Coyle, however, then-Town Council President Michael Isaacs gained some of the power Sequino’s departure had left behind. Isaacs had been president of the Town Council since he was first elected in 2004. He won reelection again in 2014 but was term-limited out in 2016.

2016 Election: New Council President; No More Town Meeting

In that election, three of the current Town Council members were re-elected, including Republican lawyer Sue Cienki, the top vote getter. Cienki, who had first won a spot on the Town Council in 2014, was well known in town, having served on school PTG boards (she and her husband, Paul, have five children), then the School Committee (including as chairwoman). Among her accomplishments, Cienki has spoken with pride of her work on the committee responsible for overseeing the building of a new Cole Middle School (completed in 2011).

Mark Schwager, a doctor and the only Democrat elected in 2016, received the second highest vote total. This was Schwager’s fourth term on the council, but they had not been consecutive terms. He’d served from 2006 to 2010, then again starting in 2014. Schwager had made two unsuccessful runs for state office, running for state senate in 2010 and state representative in 2012. He also served on the Fire District Board of Commissioners from 2011 to 2013.

Sean Todd, who works in medical sales, also won reelection in 2016. Todd, a Republican, had first gained a seat on the council in 2014.

The newcomers in 2016 were Nino Granatiero, a businessman who, with his wife Jessica, owns The Savory Grape, a local wine shop, and Andrew Deutsch, who grew up in town and replaced Todd as the council’s youngest member. Deutsch works in sales for Cox Communications.

There was another item on the Nov. 2016 ballot – asking residents if they wanted to eliminate the annual Financial Town Meeting. The question had been narrowly rejected in 2014. In 2016, it narrowly won. The FTM’s power had been muted in recent years – a quorum of at least 250 people was needed and the only vote was an up and down vote on the entire Town Council approved – and attendance had been abysmal. But its elimination meant EG’s last vestige of New England small town direct democracy was gone.

Changes on Schools Side Started in 2014

Meanwhile, the School Committee had gone through a transition of its own in 2014, when two members of the seven-person panel lost their bids for re-election, including the then-chairman of the committee, David Green. Of the four who won in 2014, three had been endorsed by the then-new Facebook group East Greenwich Parents for Excellence, which had served as an organizing tool for those candidates and their supporters. The panel went from majority Republican to majority Democrat and embarked on an ambitious list of priorities, including completing the stalled strategic plan, instituting a later start for middle and high school students, and adding all-day kindergarten.

But some parents were angry about the changes, especially the later start time – which was instituted in fall 2016 – and expressed frustration at what they saw as newcomers trying to fix a system that was already working well.

While the EGPFE Facebook page gave parents (and others – the page is not restricted to EG parents) a platform to discuss school and town issues, by 2016 some people were leaving the page, saying it was too divisive and had a liberal agenda.

In 2015, another local Facebook page started, EG Insider. It posted town announcements and other generally positive content, as well as information about Republican events and it was supportive of Town Council actions.

Tensions Rise

Under Michael Isaacs, Town Council meetings were usually attended by only a handful of regulars, some town employees and a reporter or two. Things started out that way in the Cienki era, but shifted quickly after Councilman Todd tweeted about the Women’s March Jan. 21 – one day after the Trump inauguration – setting off a firestorm that gained statewide attention.

“Definitely a guy came up with the idea for the #womensmarch. Perfect way to get the wives outta the house,” Todd tweeted. Two days later, at the Town Council’s regularly scheduled meeting, Swift Community Center was filled to capacity and speaker after speaker got up to admonish Todd, who apologized.

While many characterized Todd and his tweet as sexist, others said the tweet was just humor gone awry and the loud outcry against it a prime example of political correctness. Tensions started to build.

Then, in February, the Town Council approved spending up to $15,000 on a marketing campaign. At that meeting, councilors spoke of the need to be able to keep residents informed, especially since this would be the first year there was no Financial Town Meeting. The council voted 4-1, with Democrat Schwager voting against. The result was a mailer (find it here: ResidentMailer) sent to every household that said, among other things, that the median tax rate for East Greenwich homeowners had gone up 51 percent since 2011. The flyer became fodder for an opposition that was building. Several residents pointed out its typos and what they said were misleading graphics. One resident, URI math professor Eugene Quinn, did a deep dive into that 51 percent figure. His finding: the median tax increase over those years was 15 percent, not 51 percent. He even produced a few videos on his findings. Town Council President Cienki has stood by the mailer’s figures but no one has taken credit for where those figures actually came from.

In April, the EG Town Democratic Committee started using Facebook Live to videotape the Town Council meetings, since the town was not recording them.

Level-Funding the Schools

Also in April, the School Committee approved a budget asking for a 4 percent increase from the town – the most it could ask for under state law. Even to get to that 4 percent increase, the School Committee had already cut several teacher assistant positions and an intramural sports program at the middle school, as well as dipping into its fund balance for the fourth consecutive year.

While the School Committee is, by state law, its own governing body, it relies on the Town Council for funding, so when in May then-Town Manager Coyle submitted his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, level-funding the schools, and proposing the first tax cut in decades. parents and school officials were up in arms.

Enter Gayle Corrigan and her consulting firm, Providence Analytics.

Linda Dykeman of Providence Analytics presenting findings about school and town finances at a Town Council meeting June 5.

The town had hired Providence Analytics in April to look at the school’s finances in response to the school district’s acknowledgement it was running a structural deficit. PA presented its findings in a joint town and school meeting, where Corrigan suggested that the school department’s deficit was just how Central Falls started down its path to bankruptcy in the 1980s.

The town then extended its contract with PA to investigate town finances. Corrigan and her PA colleague Linda Dykeman made their second presentation at a meeting June 5. The main takeaway in that presentation was the introduction of the term “One Town,” which described consolidation efforts that would save the town money.

The report also honed in on fire department issues characterized as potentially troublesome, including what Corrigan called “unsustainable collective bargaining agreements” and “short-sighted employment practices.”

Almost immediately, rumors started circulating that Town Manager Coyle was on his way out.

At a meeting June 8, the Town Council approved the budget, including recommendations from Providence Analytics, with no public comment and loud negative response from those in attendance. The process was significantly different than in previous years, where the Town Council would meet with department heads to discuss their budgets over a series of weeks. This budget was passed but specific line items, especially as related to the items taken over by the town from the school department, were left to be worked out later.

Town Manager Coyle Is Out; Corrigan Is In

The following week, the Town Council met in executive session to discuss a personnel issue that turned out to be Tom Coyle’s job performance. That meeting ended unresolved but a few days later, on June 19, the council met again in executive session, approved a “separation” with Coyle as town manager and approved Corrigan as acting town manager.

Departing Town Manager Tom Coyle, standing far right, shakes hands with Councilman Mark Schwager after Coyle’s separation was agreed to.

There were some problems with that June 19 meeting that would be dealt with in the subsequent trial heard by Superior Court Judge McGuirl. First, the agenda listed only that the council would be discussing a personnel issue. It said nothing about appointing a town manager, acting, interim or otherwise. Second, the votes on both accepting Coyle’s separation agreement and on Corrigan’s appointment were taken while the council was still in executive session. By state law, votes are to be taken in open session. Third, no minutes were taken during the meeting. The town clerk, who usually took meeting minutes, had been dismissed at the start of the June 15 meeting so she did not come to work early on June 19 (the meeting started at 8), assuming she would not be wanted at that meeting either.

But with that court case still months in the future, Corrigan arrived at Town Hall with her own fairly public history.

Corrigan first became known as former R.I. Supreme Court Judge Bob Flanders’s chief of staff during Central Falls’ bankruptcy in 2012. She then moved to Rhode Island Housing, where she was fired, then she sued, then she was rehired, resuming work there for another 11 months before leaving that agency again in April 2015. In October 2016, Corrigan was hired to handle the Central Coventry Fire District bankruptcy as manager. She continues in that role today. She also served briefly as board chairwoman of the Providence YMCA, a volunteer position from which she was fired in January.

Corrigan’s reputation as tough on unions, and her targeting of the fire department during her June 5 presentation, put EG firefighters on edge even before she was named acting town manager.

Council President Sue Cienki, center, during a Town Council meeting in June. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan is to her left and Councilman Sean Todd is to her right.

Following the June 5 presentation, firefighter union president Bill Perry asked to meet with town officials to discuss what Corrigan had said were problems with the department. That June 12 meeting became famous when, in August, Perry filed a complaint against Town Council President Cienki for threatening to cut off Perry’s and another firefighter’s genitals during the session. Several people attended the meeting and after the complaint was filed Cienki did not deny making the remark. She apologized at a later Town Council meeting and said she had taken a class in civil discourse.

Corrigan’s first public appearance as acting town manager came at the Town Council meeting June 26, when she recommended eliminating the town’s Municipal Court. The Town Council tabled the issue after the Municipal Court judge, David Bazar, got up to argue on the court’s behalf, saying Corrigan had not spoken to him about the court and that the court was not, as Corrigan suggested, a money drain.

The afternoon of June 30, the Friday before what for many was going to be a long July 4th weekend, Corrigan alerted town employees via email that the town’s finance director, personnel director and the assistant for the town manager were let go in the first official act of consolidation of town and school employees. The finance director, Kristin Benoit, was replaced by Corrigan’s Providence Analytics’s partner Linda Dykeman, who was already serving as part-time interim finance director for the school department. The personnel director, Sharon Kitchin, was to be replaced by School Department employee Rose Emilio, who had not yet officially been offered that consolidated position. And town manager assistant Pam Aveyard was replaced by Michaela Antunes, who was given the title of chief of staff.

There was only one problem. The School Committee had not signed off on the consolidated positions and it quickly became clear that they were uncomfortable with the undefined job description for, especially, the personnel director. Because of the School Committee’s reluctance and Emilio’s not having even been offered the job, Corrigan left that position open. Consolidation with the School Department remained on the town’s list of priorities, but it quickly took a back seat to the fire department.

End of East Greenwich Explained, Part One. Here is Part Two.

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Cienki Cancels Meeting on Corrigan Citing Capacity Concerns

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

A resident holds up a sign reading, “Lights on, EG!”

With every seat taken and many people standing, Town Council President Sue Cienki cancelled the special session scheduled for Tuesday night, saying that they needed a larger venue after 50 to 60 people were not able to get into the meeting at Swift Community Center by the 7 p.m. start. The Town Council was to vote on the appointment of Gayle Corrigan as town manager in response to a ruling by Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl last week that nullified her earlier appointment June 19.

Earlier Tuesday, McGuirl had granted the town one more week – until Nov. 21 – to comply with the ruling. While the original agenda had listed a vote on Corrigan’s appointment and votes to ratify her contract and her actions since June 19, Town Solicitor David D’Agostino said concerns raised by a letter from Access RI Tuesday morning about the vagueness of that third vote prompted him to recommend tabling ratifying Corrigan’s previous actions until they were more clearly defined. So Tuesday night was only going to be the vote on Corrigan and, if that passed, on her contract. The judge’s one-week extension, however, gives the council cover to reschedule the meeting and hold it in a larger venue.

“I am disappointed,” said Councilman Mark Schwager. “I was ready. The capacity issue possibly could have been addressed earlier but that wasn’t my call. Generally that decision is made by the town manager and the Town Council president. I know there had been discussions and a number of citizens had brought up holding the meeting at a larger venue. The high school will allow a much bigger crowd. You have to open it up to the community.”

Councilman Mark Schwager speaks with reporters after the meeting was cancelled.

Schwager arrived at Swift shortly before 7 p.m. and many people stood and clapped loudly when they saw him walk in. The lone Democrat on the council, Schwager has consistently questioned actions taken by the council and by Corrigan, including the same issues Judge McGuirl highlighted in her ruling as incorrect.

Swift Community Center has a capacity of 253 people. By 6:20 p.m. Tuesday, there were more than 100 people standing outside Swift waiting for the 6:30 open time. By 6:50, nearly every seat inside was full but Cienki said she was not concerned some people would not be able to get in. “Look,” she said, indicating to the crowd before her, “everybody’s here. We’re good.”

When it became clear there were dozens of people outside who were not allowed to enter because the building was at capacity, Cienki did an about face, announcing the meeting was cancelled and would be held within the next week at East Greenwich High School.

Cienki said she had not earlier considered holding the meeting at a larger venue, such as the auditorium at East Greenwich High School (capacity 700) or the cafetorium at Cole Middle School (capacity 400). For her part, Corrigan said although she had discussed meeting logistics issues with Police Chief Steve Brown, capacity issues had not come up. She added that the meeting was the Town Council’s so she deferred to the council on such things as meeting location.

Among those who gained entry to Swift were about 14 EG firefighters who do not live in town. Firefighter union president Bill Perry said those firefighters gave up their seats for residents after it became clear there were more people who wanted to get in than would be allowed. Perry himself remained, having closed on his new house in East Greenwich on Monday. He and his family had been living in Cranston.

Before the meeting, some residents were handing out “EG Taxpayer” name tags for those who lived in East Greenwich. Others were handing out red and green pieces of paper as a way to respond to the lack of public comment on the meeting agenda. Those who took the papers were told to hold up the red sheets for things they disagreed with and green for those they agreed with as a way to silently register their opinions. Public comment at Town Council meetings is not required by law but traditionally has been allowed at council meetings.

Councilman Schwager said afterwards he hoped Cienki would include public comment at the rescheduled meeting.

“As Superior Court Judge McGuirl stated, this is the most important decision that a council undertakes. Given the importance of the decision and also the engagement of the community, residents should be able to give their input to the council,” he said.

Schwager added he was not optimistic that his colleagues on the council would have a change of mind about Corrigan by the time of the rescheduled meeting.

“My impression is the majority members of the council are resolute about moving forward [with Corrigan],” he said after the meeting. He said just as he did not vote for Corrigan June 19, he will not be voting for her at the rescheduled meeting.

“At some point they have to take into account the public sentiment,” Schwager said about his colleagues. “They really dismissed the Superior Court decision. They did not take it to heart. They are circling the wagons and hoping that the reward down the road will vindicate them. It’s an ‘ends justify the means’ situation. Unfortunately, the means has been so disruptive. I’m not sure what the ends are, but by the time you get there, you’ll have a very divided and damaged community.”

More than 100 people gathered at the Varnum Armory after the Town Council meeting was cancelled, for a “Turn the Lights Back On” public forum.

Following the meeting, more than 100 people moved to the Varnum Armory on Main Street where the EG Town Democratic Committee held what it called a Turn The Lights Back On” public forum, where residents were invited to comment to whichever Town Council members attended as if it were public comment at the meeting. Councilman Schwager was the only member to attend.

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Meeting Tonight: A Vote on Corrigan but Not on Her Actions

Also, There Appears to Be a Presentation Planned

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The set up for tonight’s Town Council meeting at Swift Community Center, including what looks like equipment for a presentation.

Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl Tuesday gave the town another week before most of her order will go into effect.

“I’m going to give the town a one-week stay with respect to item 2C [on the Town Council’s agenda tonight] until Nov. 21,” McGuirl pronounced Tuesday afternoon after meeting with lawyers from the town and the firefighters union.

The one part of her order that will go ahead is the reinstatement of firefighter James Perry.

So, the council will go ahead with its meeting and vote on the appointment of Gayle Corrigan to serve as town manager. If that passes, they will vote on her contract. They will not vote on ratifying every action Corrigan took since she was previously appointed town manager on June 19.

That decision was prompted by a letter sent to the Town Council this morning from Access RI, an open government coalition that includes Common Cause and the RI ACLU. The letter urged President Sue Cienki to cancel the meeting or risk another Open Meetings Complaint on that third agenda item – ratifying all of Corrigan’s actions. Access RI said the item was too vague.

From the letter:

“Ms. Corrigan might have taken dozens, if not hundreds, of actions between June 19 and November 14, some or all of which may be of interest to various members of the public. However, they have no way of knowing exactly what decisions are going to be ratified. Indeed, in the absence of any delineation of the actions being ratified, the Town Council itself would appear to have no idea what it is voting on.”

 

Common Cause, RI ACLU Ask Town to Cancel Meeting to Avoid More OMA Violations

Say the Town Council needs to know what it’s voting on.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The open government coalition Access RI has sent a letter to Town Council President Sue Cienki urging her to cancel tonight’s meeting, saying that the agenda item to ratify all decisions made by Gayle Corrigan as town manager is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

“We believe that the agenda for tonight’s meeting is in clear violation of the Open Meetings Act (OMA), R.I.G.L. § 42-46. Specifically, we believe that agenda item (2)(c), “Ratification of all actions taken by Gayle Corrigan as Town Manager from June 19, 2017 – November 14, 2017,” is in violation of § 42-46-6(b).”

Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl’s ruling that the Town Council violated the Open Meetings Act is how the town got in this situation to begin with. McGuirl nullified Corrigan’s appointment by the council June 19 because appointment of a town manager was not on the agenda for that meeting even though the council was aware that then-Town Manager Tom Coyle would be leaving that post either by termination or by mutual agreement. (The later course took place.)

From the letter:

“Even assuming the Town Council has the authority to ratify “all” the previous decisions of Ms. Corrigan, it is difficult to comprehend what “all” means. Does the Town Council, in direct defiance of a court decision, plan on ratifying decisions that Judge McGuirl found were made in violation of the Town Charter?”

“The Town Council needs to know what it’s voting on,” said RI ACLU’s Steven Brown, “and the public has the right to know what it’s voting on.”

Judge McGuirl is going to enter an order on her ruling at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

That action turns the decision into an order from the court. Up until this point, Corrigan could remain as town manager but once the order is entered, that’s when the “null and void” comes into effect.

 The town may request that McGuirl “stay” the order – in others, delay its implementation.

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Isaacs Says It’s Time to Get New Town Manager

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Council members past and present were there to mark the procession of Gianna Cirella. From left, Sean Todd, Michael Isaacs, Mark Schwager and Marilyn Kiesel.

After months of sitting on the sidelines, former Town Council President Michael Isaacs – a Republican who served for 12 years before stepping down in 2016 – said Monday the council should name an interim town manager and “go full force” with a search for permanent town manager.

Referring to Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl’s strongly worded ruling last week against the Town of East Greenwich, Isaacs said, “In light of the ruling, it really is time for the council to step back and assess the situation.”

McGuirl ruled that the appointment of Gayle Corrigan as town manager last June was “null and void,” citing EG for five Open Meetings Act violations, as well as reinstating firefighter James Perry, who Corrigan fired in July. In her ruling McGuirl said the Town Council had “misled” the residents by their actions.

The Town Council meets in a special session Tuesday to address the issues raised by the ruling. The agenda calls for reappointing Corrigan as town manager and ratifying all actions she took as town manager between June 19 and Tuesday.

RI Future’s Bob Plain, who grew up in EG and owns a house here, was the first to get Isaacs to talk publicly about the ruling and the Town Council’s predicament.

Until now, Isaacs declined to comment about Town Council activities, saying he was no longer close enough to the situation. Asked why he was willing to speak about the Town Council’s actions now, Isaacs told EG News, “There’s just more and more people talking about this. I needed to say something at this point.”

He added, “I agree with the overarching goals of consolidation and shared services. We have real legitimate financial issues. It is a question of how they are implemented.”

Isaacs said he believed the three-year firefighter contract the Town Council approved in 2016 – while he was president – was not as fiscally prudent as he had hoped when it was voted on.

“Those things need to be addressed by the union and the town by sitting down and talking,” he said. “The sides have to talk because you do have to work together. I would certainly like to see if the two sides can come to a resolution.”

Plain also reached state Sen. Mark Gee, who served on the Town Council for two terms before moving to the State House.

“I am not a believer in creating angst or being confrontational. I would much rather see things done in a quiet, respectful manner. I’m a graduate of the Michael Issacs school of trying to work things out,” Gee told Plain.

Meanwhile, people on both sides of the issue are rallying the troops.

On the pro-Corrigan side, Councilman Andy Deutsch posted on the Rhode Island Young Republicans Facebook page: “YRs … We need YOU!! The East Greenwich Town Council has a special meeting where we anticipate major union interference … looking for some YRs to help take up some seats … For every seat you’re in – a union agent won’t be!!”

And, in a post on its Facebook page, the EG Republican Town Committee expressed its support for the Town Council, playing off Judge McGuirl’s comment at the end of her 73-page ruling that “It’s time for East Greenwich to turn the lights back on and keep them on.

As our Town Council continues down the path to ensure our financial future is secure, they have our trust, confidence and support,” the Facebook post concludes. “The lights are still on in East Greenwich. The Town Council and the Town Manager are working diligently to ensure East Greenwich can afford to keep them on.”

On the anti-Corrigan side, a new group called Fresh Start EG has a petition circulating online that had gathered 476 signatures as of 9 p.m. Monday calling for the Town Council to appoint an interim town manager and launch an immediate search for a permanent town manager. And the EG Town Democratic Committee has organized a forum for after Tuesday night’s meeting. In addition, the EG firefighters distributed leaflets across town Sunday.

Councilman Mark Schwager said Monday night he’d received more than 100 emails and several phone calls.

“It exceeds more than I’ve gotten on any issue in any of my terms on the council,” he said. Schwager is in his fourth (nonconsecutive) term. “These are emails that are being sent to all the councilors.”

Of the emails, only two were in favor of appointing Corrigan. The rest were opposed to her appointment.

There is another petition circulating online, this one in favor of appointing Corrigan, but its authenticity is questionable. None of the six signatures as of 9:45 p.m. Monday night were from East Greenwich.

The Town Council meeting Tuesday starts at 7 p.m. at Swift Community Center. Council President Sue Cienki said doors will open at 6:30 p.m. As of Monday night, Cienki did not have information about what would happen if the space filled and people were left out. Swift can hold 253 people. An email Sunday to Cienki, Corrigan and Corrigan’s assistant Michaela Antunes about moving the meeting to the much larger EGHS auditorium (capacity 700) went unanswered.

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