Summer’s End tried something new last year and it was such a success it’s back again this year – “Race to the Stage” offers musicians of all varieties the chance to compete for a spot on the program at the annual Summer’s End concert at Eldredge Field.
Last year, 47 acts entered the contest, 12 were chosen to audition at the Race to the Stage show at the Odeum and 4 were selected to perform at Summer’s End on Aug. 31. The acts included a classical guitarist, a yodeling country singer, a rock band and a local duo.
This year, who knows who might win? And, to sweeten the pot, Summer’s End has added cash prizes – $500 for first place, $300 for second and $200 for third.
But if you or someone you know is interested in competing, time is running out! Submissions must be in by April 1. Contestants can go to the website to submit an application and link to a video. Race to the Stage performers will be announced by mid-April. The event is Sunday, April 29, at 4 p.m. at the Odeum. You can buy tickets here ($10) or at the door ($15).
Each contestant will perform one song. EG’s own Sal Sauco is emcee for the event and the judges this year will be Dana Wronski, Katie Kleyla, Megan Catelli, and Bill McGrath. They do feedback American-Idol style after each performance and at the end, they confer with one another and announce three winners (last year, there were so many strong acts that they chose four).
Megan Winters Catelli is currently a string specialist at Cole Middle School in East Greenwich where she teaches orchestra and band. Formerly, she was the director of orchestras for the Easton, Mass., public schools. Megan is a cellist who performs locally, often with small chamber groups or as a soloist for special occasions. She is an East Greenwich native and a University of Rhode Island graduate in Music Education.
Katie Kleyla, soprano, is a lover of music, art, and laughter. She is a graduate of URI, with a B.A. in Music. She is the star of the New Providence Big Band, a 20 piece swing band, selected by Providence Monthly as the Most Musical Act in Rhode Island.She was the featured soloist of URI’s Big Band, conducted by Grammy nominated composer, Joe Parillo. She is cantor at St. Joseph’s in Providence, and has sung in churches throughout New England. She has performed with Opera Providence, New Bedford Festival Theatre, and performs weekly with a jazz quartet. Favorite appearances: the annual Christmas Gala at the Breakers Mansion in Newport, performing in Providence’s famed “Superman Building,” and singing with the R.I. Philharmonic.
Bill McGrath: Bill is the vice president of the R.I. Country Music Association, former Vice President of R.I. Country Horizons. Bill is also a member of the Massachusetts Country Music Association. He is a Promoter of Bill McGrath’s Music Series, Performance Director of Rising. Bill is also a member of the R.I. Songwriters Association. Bill is an honorary member of the RI Country Music Hall of Fame.
Dana Wronski: Dana is a talented local singer-songwriter. She has recorded here and is the musical director for Destiny Africa Children’s Choir in Kampala, Uganda. Dana is a familiar person in town for overseeing some of our favorite culinary hangouts; she is the proprietor of Besos Kitchen and Cocktails here in town. Dana has played at Summer’s End several times in the past.
Town Manager Gayle Corrigan will try for a second time Monday to add a position to her consolidation of the parks, senior and human services and the substance abuse counselor, even as she has been repeatedly beat the drum of a pending municipal fiscal crisis.
Instead, it is back on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, with an expanded job description. (Find that and the resume for the candidate Corrigan wants to hire for the position, Rachel-Lyn Longo, here: Corrigan Memo on Community Resource Manager).
Several members argue district can’t afford to say no, but others say town is forcing an unnecessary choice.
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
After significant debate, the School Committee voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve a plan originally proposed by Town Manager Gayle Corrigan in which the school and town finance and human resources staffs will be consolidated and work as one.
Committee members Jeff Dronzek and Michael Fain voted against the plan, arguing that no change was really needed and that the past year of compromise with the town has yielded nothing positive for the schools.
“I don’t believe we should be essentially blackmailed into one way or the other,” said Dronzek. “We’ve been put in a difficult situation but we’re continually put in difficult situations by this Town Council.”
“How many times do we walk down the same road?” he said.
Chairwoman Carolyn Mark acknowledged the risk.
“This is uncharted waters. We don’t know if this is going to work,” she said. But she said she was going with the fact that Supt. Victor Mercurio supported the plan. “I’m hearing him say that not proceeding with this is worse than taking the risk of proceeding.”
She said the memorandum of agreement worked out by Mercurio and Corrigan had three important protections for the school district: shared responsibility between the town and schools; a dispute resolution process; and the ability given to either side to walk away from the agreement for the following year with 60 days notice.
“I’m not comfortable with this … but I have to balance what the superintendent says,” Mark said.
At that February meeting, Mercurio said building a standalone finance department was a non-starter. When asked to estimate what rebuilding a full finance department could cost, Mercurio said it cost $200,000 to $300,000.
Committeeman Matt Plain said it struck him “odd” that the status quo couldn’t be maintained. Ultimately, though, he said he wasn’t willing to risk the loss of school funding if the committee were to vote against the consolidation and subsequently had to spend a big chunk of budget money to build a standalone finance department.
“Complete separation would be painful. We have to take steps to stand up, [but] we also have to protect our kids,” he said, adding, “We have over a year’s worth of evidence that they may venture down this path.”
“The Town Council has not explained why we need to go to these extremes,” said Committee member Michael Fain. “I’m not willing to agree to something I don’t think is a smart move.”
Dronzek said he didn’t think the committee needed to make the choice at all.
“We didn’t propose this. We are our own governing body. The town has to force us to change. This is us playing along,” he said. “We should be able to just table the whole thing.”
Plain acknowledged a level of coercion by the town. “The remedy is political,” he said. All five seats on the Town Council are up for election in November (as are four of the seven School Committee seats).
“We’ve been backed into the corner for reasons that don’t seem reasonable to any of us…. We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Committee member Lori McEwen. Based on that, she said, she had to go with what the superintendent thought was the best option.
Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winter said the School Committee was in this position because the state Auditor General had to be called in last year because of a structural deficit and changes needed to be made.
Dronzek pushed back, arguing that the council’s decision to cut funding to the school district this year wasn’t helping to solve the deficit. He also argued that the cost savings was not comparable to what the School Committee would be giving up.
The consolidation is projected to save $70,000 in salaries. Dronzek said plans to redo the school department central office would eat into any savings (although the salary savings would extend yearly).
Committeewoman Yan Sun said she thought rejecting the consolidation plan was too risky.
“Our risk is one year,” she said, referring to the walk-away clause if either side decided the consolidation wasn’t working. “On the other side … I see that the risk of complete separation is much higher.”
A motion to table the plan failed 2-5, with Dronzek and Fain the lone supporters.
Now that the School Committee has approved the memorandum of agreement on the plan, it goes to the Town Council for a vote.
If you are a fan of weeklong breaks in February and April, you may exhale. The School Committee Tuesday night approved the 2018-19 calendar, keeping both the February and April weeklong breaks as well as retaining the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (Good Friday is not a extra day off next year because it takes place during the weeklong April break.)
The first day of school for students will be Wednesday, Aug. 29; the last day of school (barring added school cancellation days) is Monday, June 17.
But School Committee members continued to express frustration over the length of the school year – with bad-weather days, the school year typically ends sometime after June 20. (With this week’s added snow day, the final day of this school year looks to be June 22. The calendar here has been adjusted to reflect weather-related school closures and the later end of the school year.)
“I’d be shocked if we were the only district that found after the middle of June there was significantly less production,” said Committee member Matt Plain.
“It seems like every year we’re talking about it, it’s already too late,” said Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. In addition to those families who plan trips during February or April breaks, Mark said, there are families who have custody arrangements based on school vacations.
Supt. Victor Mercurio suggested deciding the 2019-20 calendar a lot earlier, by October 2018, to give families time to plan.
Plain said parents needed to accommodate the school calendar.
“As a parent I’m required to get my child to school,” he said. “We’ve got to find ways to fit 180 school days in the best way we can.”
The challenge for 2018-19 is there are two election days (Primary Day is Wednesday, Sept. 12; Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6) and both Jewish holidays land on weekdays.
“There are two religions represented on this calendar. There are not only two religions,” he said. “What message are we sending to those who practice other religions?”
Committeeman Michael Fain asked Supt. Mercurio if there was a specific absentee rate – when it’s known that a number of students will be absent for a particular reason, such as a religious holiday – at which it was determined school should be cancelled on that day.
“I don’t know what the tipping point is,” Mercurio said.
The committee voted 7-0 to approve the calendar. Chairwoman Mark pledged the School Committee would start work on the calendar for 2019-20 in September.
Social and emotional learning is an essential, but often overlooked, component of the educational process. In a world that seems to move quicker each day, how we communicate, problem solve, and handle stress need to be things that are taught to our children. In the midst of an opioid crisis, as well as our seeking ways to address gun violence, teaching skills to promote interaction and understanding should be a priority. Perhaps by “remembering” we can find a few answers. Sometimes complicated concerns have to be addressed using the simplest of means.
Remember when there was a thing called play And children did it most every day On the swings or chasing a ball Engaged in fun nearly all
Remember when we spoke face to face And not at such hurried pace A smile, hug or pat on the back Perhaps two friends walking ’round a track
Somehow these days have passed from view For constant quest of something new With most contacts by computer or phone Little wonder we now feel alone
Remember lessons when teachers spoke With skills intended to evoke Critical thinking through passionate minds While having time to be quite kind
Remember when imagination reigned And far off places learners gained With time left to stare at clouds Engaging friends, to laugh out loud
Now the pressure for test scores Has forced our leaders need implore Students to ride a conveyer belt Scarce time concerning what was felt
Perhaps remembering not long ago Is something all of us do know And teaching young people this simple gift Can cure that which has become bereft
So, let’s remember to take a walk Spend moments sharing heartfelt talks Looking neighbors in the eye These can be done if we try
While there might be no stopping change Priorities can be rearranged We will experience brighter days If taking time to engage in play
We live in a world of extremes. We also live in a world of tweets, media overload and a constant flow of information. These dynamics have caused a number of conflicts as well as wonderful advances. As we hurry though life, taking a brief interlude for play might prove to be a powerful elixir.
Bob Houghtaling – father, husband, son and concerned citizen – is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program.
1:24 a.m. – Police cited a Coventry man for driving a car with expired registration after he was pulled over on Route 4 for speeding. According to the report he was doing 89 mph in a 55 mph zone. Routine checks showed the registration was expired. The car was towed from the scene and the man was issued a summons for speeding.
12:25 p.m. – A South Road resident asked police if he was within his rights to aim surveillance cameras at the front of his property, which he said had been strewn with litter in recent months, specifically empty Natural Light beer cans. The police said the man was allowed to aim the cameras toward the road but recommended not including any other residences within camera range.
5:16 p.m. – Police arrested a Warwick man, 41, on a warrant after he turned himself in on a warrant for simple assault, disorderly conduct, domestic simple assault and domestic disorderly. He was arraigned by a justice of peace and given a no-contact order related to the domestic charges. He was later released with a court date.
Tuesday. Feb. 27
2:15 a.m. – As police were doing a routine check at EGHS they found a Russian flag on a pole attached to the Avenger statue at the entrance to Carcieri Field. Upon further investigation, police found graffiti on three stop signs, one parking sign and on the concrete base of a light police. The school resource officer was notified about the vandalism.
Thursday, March 1
12 p.m. –An East Greenwich resident told police about a party at an apartment on Duke Street that’s known to police as a site of illegal drug activity. While police were surveilling the area, they saw a man leave the apartment and look around as if to see if he were being watched. Police retreated to a nearby location when it appeared the man knew he was being watched. Some minutes later, they saw the man crouching behind a building on Duke Street. Police drove up to the man and ordered him to come with them. He ran off and was not located. Police found a bag of what appeared to be cocaine nearby to where the man had been standing. Further searching turned up four additional bags, for a total of approximately 2.5 grams. A resident told police the suspect’s car was parked on Queen Street. A check of the car’s registration identified a man police identified through his driver’s license photo as the one who had run away.
Friday, March. 2
2:11 a.m. – Police arrested an East Greenwich woman, 22, for domestic assault and battery after she allegedly punched her father in the face following a car- and-pedestrian accident in the municipal parking lot. The woman told police she’d gone out to Kai Bar with her mother and father and a family friend and that she saw her father put his hand on the friend’s leg, making her suspicious. The man was to drive the friend home while the woman was going to drive her mother home. But the woman and her mother decided to check on the father, who had parked in the municipal lot. The woman said she saw her father kissing the family friend in his car. Her mother then got out of the car and went over to the father’s car, reaching for the driver’s side door just as the man pulled away, causing the woman to fall. The man got out of his car and the daughter then hit him in the face with a closed fist causing a cut; he was treated at Kent Hospital. The woman was taken into custody, and processed and held overnight.
3:40 p.m., 6:11 p.m. and 7 p.m. – During a nor’easter with the heavy rain and wind conditions, EGPD responded to three houses damaged by fallen trees, on Mawney Street, Fox Run and South Pierce Road. Police were also busy with other downed trees and wires throughout the town during the storm.
5:50 p.m. – A North Providence resident told police that his car was stolen on Feb. 28 after he was involved in a car on Division Street east of Route 2. He said after the accident, in which he struck his head and thought he’d lost consciousness for a time, police were on the scene and ended up dropping him off in an unfamiliar neighborhood in Cranston and his car was towed. He was not sure what police department dealt with him and he said rescue never showed up to examine him. He eventually made it home to North Providence but has not been able to find his car even after contacting several towing companies and police departments. Because of that, he had decided to file a stolen car report.
Saturday, March. 3
10:54 p.m. – Police arrested an East Greenwich man, 27, for driving while intoxicated after they were alerted to a call about a hit and run accident at 500 Main St. involving a red Saturn. Police found the car parked in the Greenwich Hotel lot, with the driver standing nearby. At first, the man tried to run away. After a brief chase, the man stopped and told police he’d never been in an accident before and was scared. Police could smell alcohol on the man, his speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot. The man took the field sobriety tests and failed, so police took him into custody. He was issued a District Court summons and a separate summons for refusing to submit to a chemical blood alcohol test.
Hit and Run in House
10:55 p.m. – A resident from South Pierce Road told police a car drove onto his front yard, damaging it, then left the scene. The man said the car was white, possibly a Crown Victoria. He said he’d been in his house when he heard the car drive up onto his front yard and then try to get back on the road. He said he saw two people arguing. The passenger got out of the car but when he saw the homeowner, he got back in the car and they drove off. The car left tire tracks across the entire front yard, damaging grass, a rock wall and the water line. From skid marks, police saw the car had been heading west on Middle Road, then made a sharp left on South Pierce and drove up onto the man’s front yard.
Sunday, March. 4
11:30 a.m. – A Warwick resident told police that while he was at church at St. Luke’s, someone tried to break into his car, which was parked in the municipal lot near Swift Community Center. The front passenger window had a puncture mark on it; the back passenger window had been smashed in. Nothing appeared to be missing from the car but two days later someone found and turned in a temporary license, a credit card and a few other items belonging to the man.
11:54 a.m. – A Narragansett man told police someone had broken into his car while he attended church services at East Greenwich High School. The front passenger window had been smashed and his wallet, which he’d left on the seat, was missing.
2:09 p.m. – A Smithfield man told police someone had tried to break into his car while it was parked in the back (teachers) lot at East Greenwich High School. The man had been attending church services there that morning. There were three small holes in the driver’s side window but the vehicle did not appear to have been entered.
Monday, March. 5 – Assault
12:11 a.m. – A Peirce Street woman told police her daughter had assaulted her after the woman after an argument. The daughter threatened her mother then hit her in the face, causing her nose and lip to bleed. She fled the scene with her 2-year-old son and her brother. Police issues a BOLO (be on the lookout) for the woman and contacted DCYF.
A weekly article that lists happenings in East Greenwich and nearby. If you have something you’d like to add, send your information to email@example.com.
Monday, March 19
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coffee With Your Councilor – Town Councilman Mark Schwager will be at Felicia’s from 6 to 7 p.m. to meet with constituents.
EG Tree Committee meeting – Love trees? This is your group! It’s a volunteer group committed to protecting and expanding the urban and suburban forest in our town. Felicia’s Coffee at 7 p.m. [Full disclosure: Editor Elizabeth McNamara is a member.]
Tuesday, March 20
Blood Drive – The town is hosting a blood drive from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Bloodmobile parked to Swift Community Center. Consider giving a pint – it will help more than you know. Just show up, or make an appointment here.
EG Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours – At Providence Coal-Fired Pizza, 6105 Post Road in North Kingstown this month, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Members $5; non-members $10.
School Committee meeting – On the agenda, possible votes on the 2018-19 school calendar and the town-school consolidation plan. In the library at Cole Middle School at 7 p.m.
Municipal Land Trust meeting – On the agenda, a report from Patrick McNiff, the tenant of Boesch Farm, and discussion of upcoming events. In Council Chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, March 21
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.
Planning Board meeting – On the agenda, the board will review preliminary plan for “Castle Street Cottages,” a 9-unit residential redevelopment and a final plan review for “Frenchtown Place,” a 11-lot cluster subdivision.
Friday, March 23
Hairspray! Jr. – Hanaford is putting on this musical at the auditorium at East Greenwich High School at 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 24
Rabies Clinic – You can have your dog or cat vaccinated against rabies for only $12 (cash only) at the police department from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Residents and non-residents are welcome. Rhode Island State Law requires that all dogs and cats over the age of four months be vaccinated against rabies.
Hairspray! Jr. – Hanaford is putting on this musical at the auditorium at East Greenwich High School at 4 p.m.
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
Recycling is ON this week.
Register for Race to the Stage – Music performers are invited to enter. Winners will get a chance to perform at the annual Summer’s End concert as well as win cash prizes. But you need to register to compete by April 1. Here’s more information.
Thursday, April 5
A Talk w/Providence Dep. Police Chief – Friends of the EG Free Library presents Providence Deputy Police Chief Thomas A. Verdi, who will share what it takes for our community police departments to maintain peace and order in turbulent times. Topics will include “red flags,” active shootings, gun violence, mental health issues, and community partnerships. From 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the library, 82 Peirce Street.
Friday, April 6
Wine and Wonderful – Tickets are available for the East Greenwich Rotary’s annual food and wine extravaganza at Swift Community Center. Support EG Rotary and all the great programs and organizations it supports. Buy tickets here.
Saturday, April 7
EG Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5K & 1 Mile Fun Run – The East Greenwich Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5k and 1 Mile Fun Run is coming up on Saturday, April 7, starting at 9 a.m. at Goddard Park. Proceeds go towards fully funding the popular Summer Track Series for ages 4-14 (do not have to be an EG resident to participate) on Wednesday nights in July at the EGHS track. We’ve been able to provide the series for free for 6 years. Last summer, 300 children came out during the first week! Find out more and register here.
The East Greenwich Town Council recently conducted a 20-year analysis of median house values” from FY 1998 to FY 2017, including median tax bills. Among the conclusions stated were that, over the period of the study,
• The median house value grew approximately 136 percent • The median tax bill grew by approximately 149 percent
This is the latest installment in a continuing series of communications intended to create the impression that the town is on an unsustainable path with respect to property taxes, and that drastic actions like level funding the schools are called for.
Like the resident mailer from last spring, it is easy to tell at a glance that these numbers are wrong. If tax bills had increased faster than property values, the FY 2017 tax rate of $24.06 should be higher than the FY 1998 tax rate of $26.22, but it is not.
So, why are the numbers wrong?
East Greenwich property owners recently received an official notice jointly issued by Northeast Revaluation Group, LLC, and the East Greenwich tax assessor. Referring to the December 31, 2017, valuation it states: Please do not multiply this value by the current tax rate. Your assessed values do not reflect any exemptions to which you may be entitled.
Yet, this is exactly how the supposed median tax bills were computed for both FY 2017 and FY 1998. Ignoring exemptions makes tax bills look are higher than they actually are, and invalidates the computed medians.
A more subtle problem with the methodology involves the comparison of the overall median tax bills and property values 20 years apart. While the median home values presented for FY 2017 and FY 1998 are technically correct, computing the percentage increase from these two numbers produces a meaningless comparison of the assessed values of two different homes, 20 years apart in time.
Just as retailers look at ”same store sales” to estimate trends, you have to look at ”same house changes.” This is important because between FY 1998 and FY 2017, nearly 300 new homes with a median value in the $750,000 range were added to the tax base.
An apples-to-apples comparison requires that you look at the FY 1998 and FY 2017 assessments and tax bills for each individual home, house by house, and compute the median of those changes. Failure to do so produces inflated estimates of the actual increases in valuations and tax bills due to new construction.
Every analysis published by the Town Council, including the resident mailer and the subsequent correction, has failed to do this (which explains the difference between their numbers, even the ”corrected” ones, and mine).
Another obvious error is the exclusion of the Fire District taxes in the FY 1998 numbers. It is easy to verify that the median FY 1998 tax bill was computed from the median valuation using a rate of $23.88, which is the FY 1998 town rate. According to the Tax Assessor, the Fire District rate for FY 1998 was $2.34. Because the FY2017 number includes the fire district and the FY 1998 number does not, the increase in the median tax bills is overstated.
It is not clear why FY 2018 was excluded from the analysis. The FY 2018 tax roll has been posted on the town website for months. Including FY 2018 would produce a slightly lower estimate of the growth in tax bills, because the FY 2018 rate of $23.66 is lower than the FY 2017 rate of $24.08.
This illustrates another flaw in the methodology. Although the title would lead you to believe that 20 years of data were analyzed, in fact only two years of data (that happen to be twenty years apart) were used. From the years 1998-2017, you can make 190 different pairs, and each gives a different estimate of the medians and growth.
There are much better ways to estimate trends that use all of the data, such as the regression model I published in response to a two-point analysis the council used to estimate the growth in the tax levy.
These methods are much less sensitive to cherry-picking the start and end years (coincidentally, FY 1998 is the only year in recent history with a 4 percent increase in the tax rate within a revaluation cycle).
So, if these flaws are addressed, what is the result?
Extracting the individual tax bills from the FY 1998 and FY 2017 tax rolls and matching the contents house-by-house produces a list of 3,619 single family (state code 01) homes that appear on both tax rolls. Computing the percentage change in the assessed values and actual tax bills for individual homes produces the following median perentage changes:
• The median percentage change in valuation was 104.3 percent • The median percentage change in the actual tax bill was 91.4 percent
These annualize to 3.8 percent and 3.5 percent per year over the interval. As noted earlier, the result of any trend analysis based on only two points is likely to be quite sensitive to the choice of starting and ending years. If we repeat the analysis using FY 1994 and FY 2018 as the endpoints, the results are:
• The median percentage change in valuation was 178.3 percent
• The median percentage change in the actual tax bill was 117.6 percent
The annualized values are 4.4 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively.
In summary, the Town Council’s study contained numerous flaws that render its conclusions invalid, while a more careful analysis found no evidence that the tax bills of single family homes are increasing faster than their assessed values (if anything, valuations are increasing faster).
I asked three economics professors if a situation where property values were increasing faster than property taxes would be considered sustainable, and all three said essentially that it’s a no-brainer, as long as you are able to come up with the cash to pay the tax bill it is sustainable.
A list of the 3,619 properties used in this analysis, ordered by percentage increase in their tax bills, is posted here.
At last Monday’s Town Council meeting, Councilman Nino Granatiero said round one interviews for town manager will be held in mid-April. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan has a contract through June 30; Granatiero and others have declined to say whether or not Corrigan is a candidate for the permanent position.
In an earlier interview, Granatiero said each Town Councilor had reviewed the 60-plus applications received for the position and submitted their top picks to Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, a process that winnowed the list to 12 candidates. Those applications were given to the six-person Town Manager Search Advisory Committee. That panel has decided to interview five candidates.
The Town Council will interview round two candidates.
Also at the meeting Monday, Finance Director Linda Dykeman gave an overview of the town’s bond debt – the money borrowed over the years to pay for such things as the new Cole Middle School, the police station, a renovation of Swift Gym into Swift Community Center, among other capital projects (East Greenwich Bond Overview March 2018).
That debt is double the state average. The majority of the debt is school debt, which is reimbursed 35 percent by the state Department of Education. The town’s bond rating – AA – remains strong.
“We’re in debt double the rest of the state of Rhode Island,” said Council Vice President Sean Todd. “That’s not good.”
“A lot of money was put into the town – it wasn’t frivolous spending,” countered Councilman Mark Schwager.
During public comment, Robert Vespia questioned the inclusion of a nonresident on the Town Manager Search Advisory Committee. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of Vespia’s comment and response from the Town Council:
The ad hoc committee for the town manager advisory board has six members…. All the other committees have odd numbers in case there’s a tie vote. Why does the board have an even number? Also, a member of the committee is not a resident of the town. Per the charter – I just happen to have the section here … ‘No person shall be appointed to any board, commission or committee of the town unless he or she is a qualified elector of the town and a resident actually living in the town except as otherwise provided in the state law and by this charter. At the point when any member ceases to meet such qualification, the position shall become vacant.’ My understanding is there’s a member of the ad hoc committee that is not a resident of the town….
Council President Sue Cienki:
It is not really a board …
Councilman Andy Deutsch:
So, Rob, your issue is with Steve Lombardi, who’s the director of the Chamber of Commerce and dedicates –
my concern –
Let me finish my question. Your issue is with Steve Lombardi, who lives and breathes East Greenwich. He works tirelessly at the Chamber of Commerce, is probably the most impartial person, is very smart, has his finger on the pulse of the business community and the town. … You feel like Steve Lombardi is not a good option for the advisory board, yes or no?
My concern is with the Town Council following the charter not only when they find it convenient, but all the time.
‘Find it convenient.’ So, what would you like us to do?
Follow the charter.
You want Steve off the board, is that what you’re saying?
Follow the charter.
What would you like us to do with this particular situation, Mr. Vespia?
Follow the charter.
I hear you again and again. What would you like us to do about Mr. Lombardi?
Whatever’s necessary to follow the charter. How much clearer can I be? Follow the charter.
Town Manager Gayle Corrigan:
Can I clarify the charter with the solicitor, because it does move into the opioid task force. This is a ad hoc advisory committee. I know that Bob Houghtaling’s has, not a resident –
Should we take Bob Houghtaling off the task force to ‘follow the charter’?
Not only that, but he suggested many people who are not residents to be on the –
Is Bob an employee of the town? So he can be an ex-officio of the committee.
So Dave [D’Agostino, town solicitor], what are we violating? Tell us.
Dave, Bob has at least five or six people he would like on this task force, including local clergy, a lot of local people that can really help… I just need to know. I need to let Bob know before he gets too in-depth here.
The view of this council as to these advisory or ad hoc groups I think is consistent, consistent with the opioid task force and whoever Bob Houghtaling wants to have on there and it would be the same with this board.
Let me jump in here for a second. We’re doing a lot of work on this town manager search. We’re asking people to take their personal time. Let’s make 100 percent certain that what he is saying is not correct or is correct and let’s go with it. Because I am not going to sit here and ask these really smart people Robert that are donating their time to make a good search, I’m not going to ask them to waste their time unless we can absolutely use it.
I’ll provide the council with a legal opinion and I’ll also address the opioid task force.
In another exchange, EG firefighter Tom Bailey spoke out about what he said were pressing safety concerns. Bailey is the safety officer for the fire department.
Tom Bailey: In the past, when we’ve had major storms there have been community center open for people to go to. The last two storms I’ve had multiple calls, people with medical conditions, people with no power in horrible situations with nowhere to go…. I had no answer. Nothing to tell them. We have a storm coming in tomorrow. What’s your plan? What’s your plan?
Councilman Nino Granatiero:
Stop with the pointing of the fingers –
The people need to know. Public safety has been put at risk long enough.
I’m just asking you to stop pointing the fingers … You’re saying it was closed the last two times. Is this the first time you’re bringing this to anyone’s attention?
I shouldn’t have to.
I’m asking a question: Is the is the first time you’re bringing this to someone’s attention?
Who am I going to talk to when the chief of the department is away over the weekend?
What I’m hearing is a finger-pointing guy who’s got a ‘gotcha’ situation, is that what I’m hearing?
No. No gotcha.
So you’re point is…
I can walk you through scenario after scenario. I’ve been at fires when Tom Coyle’s come out at 3 o’clock in the morning to check on the residents and us.
Tom Coyle’s not here. Russ McGillivray’s not here. Let’s move past all of this stuff. What is your point? That the community center should be open for people in this town, is that it?
My point is the safety in this town is being totally disregarded. We now have a chief who’s gone for multiple days.
Councilman Andy Deutsch:
So Chief McGillivray worked seven days straight? Your previous chief worked seven days straight?
No. We had a deputy chief and a chief. And there was a full chain of command that took place. Currently we’re working in a situation where – and it’s not his fault. I’ve talked to him and safety is utmost concern. It’s just the contract he’s working under. I in fact think he’s a really good guy. I think this decision that you guys are making – and I want it on public record – is going to cause a tragedy in this town unless you correct. Unless you correct. Time is running out. … You cannot predict when a storm is going to happen, when a fire is going to happen. You are flirting with disaster. And the outcome resulting will be on each of your shoulders, each of your shoulders. I am the safety officer of this town for the FD… I am here because I have waited patiently for change to come, for communication. We offered a deal to you; you walked away from it and planted it on us –
So this is more than the community center, is that it? Come on. Now you’re … enough.
Council President Sue Cienki:
We’re not going to get into contracts negotiations….
Another commenter, Gene Dumas, spoke about the March 2 storm, which downed two large pine trees on his Marion Street property. He was seeking to confirm how town departments communicate with each other in events like his and he wanted to thank town employees, especially those from public works, for their help. He and his elderly mother were without power for four days.
The Town Council also approved a reorganization of the Parks & Rec and Senior and Human Services departments. Read that story here. The panel meets next on Monday, March 26.
Sticking point remains School Committee’s desire for a finance staff person who reports solely to the superintendent, but the panel has few alternatives other than to comply.
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
A proposal outlining town and school finance and human resources consolidation found a welcome reception before the Town Council this week, while the School Committee continues to struggle with the concept.
Both elected bodies have had a chance to review a memorandum of agreement put together by schools lawyer Matt Oliverio after extensive meetings in recent weeks between Supt. Victor Mercurio and Town Manager Gayle Corrigan.
Members of the Town Council said Monday night they were ready to go ahead with the plan, though Councilman Nino Granatiero said he didn’t understand why the School Committee felt it needed a memorandum of agreement to seal the deal.
“I read through it. It will work. But I just kind of shook my head that we need it,” he said.
Alternatively, the School Committee at their meeting March 6 tabled the MOA, still uncertain about the proposed consolidated finance office reporting structure.
“The deputy director of administration reports to the director of administration, not the superintendent,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, hitting on the issue that has challenged the committee since consolidation talks (under the “One Town” banner) last summer.
“I would have the same access that I have now,” Mercurio responded, noting that the town and schools have been sharing a finance director since June.
“I talk to [school department finance clerk] Christine Spagnoli now, without going through [joint Finance Director] Linda Dykeman,” he said.
Mark conceded that the access would remain the same, but wondered about the hiring process.
“The memorandum of understanding addresses most of my most pressing concerns but it doesn’t address the hiring or firing of the deputy director position,” Mark said. “I’m just concerned about that person not being a direct report to the superintendent.”
The plan, as put forth March 6, closely resembled Town Manager Corrigan’s ultimatum from December, when she said the town and the schools needed to decide whether they would “marry or divorce.” Divorce would mean the school district would need to rebuild staff that had been shared with the town since 2005. Marriage would be complete finance consolidation.
But Oliverio argued that the MOA he drafted and which was approved by Corrigan and town lawyer David D’Agostino provided safeguards for the schools, including a “non-interference clause” for positions that would report to both the town manager and the superintendent.
“In the decision-making process between the town manager and the superintendent, should they not agree, there is a dispute resolution process,” Oliverio said.
He added, “The only way that I could recommend this proposed consolidation was to have an opt-out provision that would be agreed upon by the Town Council and the School Committee.”
If either the town or the schools decided the arrangement wasn’t working, they could opt out at least 60 days before the end of the fiscal year.
However, Supt. Mercurio said at an earlier meeting – and several School Committee members agreed – that rebuilding a standalone school finance department was a fiscal non-starter; several positions were taken over by the town years ago, so it would necessitate hiring multiple staff members with money the school district doesn’t have.
Meanwhile, Dykeman said the money saved through the consolidation would be $70,000.
Another important aspect of this consolidation would be to move some school administrators over to Town Hall. If approved, the superintendent’s office would move to the second floor of Town Hall and special education would move to the ground floor. The Planning Department and IT would move to the school administration offices at 111 Peirce Street. The as-yet unrealized position of director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum director) would also be located at 111 Peirce Street. Public Works would undertake the renovations with the town picking up the cost.
The School Committee will take up the MOA at its meeting next Tuesday, March 20. If the School Committee approves the plan, the Town Council will vote on it at their next meeting, March 26.