Town Advertises for Town Manager

Town manager job posting on ICMA.org.

A job posting for town manager was up on the town’s website, Indeed.com,  GovJobs.com and ICMA.org (no link – you need to be a member), as well as with the R.I. League of Cities and Towns as of Wednesday, Nov. 22. In addition, the posting will run in the Providence Journal in this Sunday’s paper and online for 30 days, according to Chief of Staff Michaela Antunes.

The post begins, “The Town of East Greenwich, R.I., (pop. 13,146) is seeking a Town Manager responsible for the daily operation and administration of municipal government, fiscal management, capital planning, collective bargaining, procurement and management of personnel, oversight of Town departments, preparation of an annual operating budget of approximately $62 million, and other related duties, as defined in the Town Charter.”

The salary range for the position was listed as $130,000 to $160,000 a year.  Current Town Manager Gayle Corrigan makes $160,000.

Among the qualifications sought are a minimum of 10 years of experience as  a business leader, administrator or similar position leading an organization and team of professional employees, and a minimum of 5 years municipal collective bargaining experience.

The deadline for resumes is Dec. 22.

Town Councilman Nino Granatiero is the council’s point person for the search. He has said he wants to have a five-member search committee made up of recommendations from council members. He said the council will also meet with the town’s personnel board.

Subscription

School Committee Questions Town’s $200,000 Sewer Debt Claim

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Finance Director Linda Dykeman at the Nov. 21 School Committee meeting.

At the Town Council meeting Nov. 6, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan said the school district was $200,000 in debt to the town’s sewer enterprise fund. That was news to the school district. But it turns out Finance Director Linda Dykeman hasn’t yet resolved what the district might owe on sewers. That’s what she told the School Committee during their meeting Tuesday night.

“There’s a possibility that payments might not have been applied properly. There are invoices people don’t think are accurate,” Dykeman said. She said she was in the process of listing all invoices and all payments made by the school district to figure out what the balance actually is.

“There are two pieces of this puzzle. The first is what is owed and then why is it owed. I’m hearing from Mr. Wilmarth [director of facilities for the schools] that there’s different theories of what the agreements were regarding the deduct meter that was put in for the irrigation system,” said Dykeman, referring to the fields irrigation system at the high school that was installed in 2011. “People aren’t remembering these conversations the same is what I’m hearing. So once we get the actual invoices and know the payments and know the amount due, then we can sit down with those invoices and figure out if was there an anomaly, were there problems with the billing and go from there.”

Dykeman said Wilmarth told her he’d asked “repeatedly” for the invoices but did not receive them and that she was looking into that as well.

“It sounds to me that it’s not accurate to make the statement that the school owes the municipality $200,000,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. “We actually don’t know the actual number.”

Councilman Matt Plain pressed Dykeman harder on that point.

“The notion that $200,000 is owed is merely an allegation, until it can either be confirmed or dispelled,” he said, then asked, “The $200,000 is not verified, correct? That’s a yes or no.”

Dykeman declined to answer that directly.

“I haven’t done an audit to trace the payments and the lack of payments that produced that $200,000,” she said.

Committee member Michael Fain said he thought getting the real information should be a priority for the district, “if the town’s going to stand up there and say we owe them $200,000.”

The challenge for Dykeman is that, under the recent town-school consolidation, she is both the finance director for the town and for the schools. Her priority is to prepare for the town’s audit, which is to begin in soon.

The School Committee is also looking to Dykeman to supply an updated budget picture for the current fiscal year – and to find out if the district will have to dip into its fund balance as much as it had budgeted. So far, Dykeman said, it looks like it would be.

Chairwoman Mark asked Dykeman to get to the bottom of the sewer questions by the next School Committee meeting on Dec. 5 and get other information to the committee before it meets in joint session with the Town Council Dec. 18.

You can watch video of the meeting here.

Subscription

Can School District Afford Curriculum Director This Year?

If they decide they can, school officials agree they need to commit to the position, even if the town level funds the schools.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

School Committee members Jeff Dronzek (left) and Matt Plain (center) both advocated pressing the Town Council to address additional funding for special education, which could help pay for a curriculum director.

When the School Committee approved a final budget last June, they voted to approve hiring a director of teaching and learning (in old parlance, a curriculum director) in January, halfway through the year to make the addition a little easier to bear budget-wise. But the vote was contingent on the town taking over the district’s $45,000 sewer bill, which in theory anyway would line up with the town’s stated “One Town” policy.

With January a mere number of weeks away, some on the School Committee are pushing to fill that position, even though the town said no to paying the district’s sewer bill.

The Town Council level-funded the schools this year, but their One Town consolidation plan saved the district $530,000. The district, however, had requested an additional $1.3 million so the council’s decision to level fund the schools ultimately cut the district’s budget request by $770,000. [Ed. Note: figures in this paragraph had been incorrect in an earlier version.]

Hiring a director of teaching and learning would cost upwards of $100,000 for a year, half that if the new director started in January.

“I think we should figure out a way to get those on board [curriculum director and HS librarian] and if we don’t get paid what we’re owed, that’s not on us,” argued Councilman Jeff Dronzek, head of the committee’s finance subcommittee.

Dronzek was referring to the state’s failure as of now to pay all that it had promised in state aid because of the delay in passing the state budget, as well as the town’s promise to help with unexpected and unbudgeted special education costs. The district has already seen such an expense, with a bump in preschool enrollment for children with special needs. The district hired the extra teacher in August. The town has not, as yet, agreed to give the schools anything extra for special unexpected education expenses such as the preschool hire.

“We’ve got to get this in our budget or we’re never going to get these positions,” Dronzek said. “If we wait until we get all the fund balance info, we’re not going to get these positions in this year.”

Matt Plain suggested that School Committee members press the Town Council directly to get an item about supplemental appropriations on the council’s agenda through “a letter for all of us, a letter from each of us, repeated letters and emails from each of us. Letting the public know we’re requesting that…. Something to ensure that it’s getting at least an opportunity to be discussed and voted on by the Town Council.”

He added, “We need the money.”

Chairwoman Carolyn Mark did not disagree with her colleagues but she said the committee would need to be ready to cut other things if the district was level funded in fiscal year 2019.

“What’s going to go so that we can keep that position?” she said.

“We couldn’t look to hire someone for five months and five months only,” said Councilwoman Lori McEwen. I think we would have to take a vote, we would have to commit that that is a line that stays in – a position in the org chart that is very clear.”

McEwen added that hiring someone to fill the director of teaching and learning position would not, in and of itself, solve the district’s curriculum-related issues.

“Hiring a director of teaching and learning will not categorically change the district,” she said. “There will be major changes for the good but … that role alone, that person will not be coming in with a cape.”

Chairwoman Mark asked Supt. Mercurio to try to meet with Town Manager Gayle Corrigan to learn exactly what the town considers is a special education “demonstrated need” before the committee’s next meeting Dec. 5. In addition, Mercurio said he would write a draft job description so the district would be ready to go with a search.

Subscription

Letter to the Editor: Council Actions Brave

Town Councilor Sean Todd talks with residents after the council’s vote to return Corrigan as town manager Monday, 11/20/17.

The Town Council meeting last night was filled with opposition. Most attending seemed less disturbed by the revelations underpinning the Town’s runaway spending than by the unseemly disruption to the Town’s facade of comity. Case in point: Councilman Schwager took umbrage at Council President Cienki’s prerogative to post very specific financial facts on the Town’s website, suggesting these findings were the Councilwoman’s opinion. Dr. Schwager did not, however, offer any facts to refute Mrs. Cienki, but instead he opined on the need step back and take time to smooth things over.

 As reasonable as this sounds, the instinct to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy seems like part of the problem. “You can’t please all of the people all of the time,” and “the time to strike is when the iron is hot.” Old bromides, for sure, but lose the initiative, and these problems – building up over time – are as likely as not to slip back into obscurity, and it won’t be until more people start moving out of town than into town that these facts hit home again. By then it could be too late. Many people who have lived here for decades can no longer afford the rapidly escalating tax levy. For them, living in East Greenwich is not just about property values; these people have deep roots, and to be forced out by taxes, cutting those ties, is a very unhappy thing.
EG is top heavy. The nature of top-heavy vessels is they tend to flip suddenly. What the Town Council is doing is one of the bravest things tackled by local politicians in many years. They have reasserted a bold but necessary agenda. It behooves dissenters to wear the Town Council’s shoes and pursue realistic and timely compromise. In my prayers this Thanksgiving will be the entreaty, “Lord, help East Greenwich act wisely.”
                                                                                                                          – Dean Fachon

Letter to the Editor: Thank You, President Cienki … Not

I am writing in response to the letter by Town Council President Cienki to the residents regarding, “Incorrect cost calculations. Misleading reporting. Cronyism and nepotism. Unapproved agreements. Improper loans. Discriminatory hiring practices.”

Thank you Council President Cienki for your thorough and careful review of what had been taking place in our cozy little town.

I am pleased to know that you and your fellow councilors addressed the issue of cronyism and nepotism. I’m certainly glad to know that Ms. Corrigan was hired after a careful and thorough review of her qualifications and abilities as required by the town charter and the council didn’t rush to appoint her because she was initially recommended from some future politician. I’m also pleased to know this was not guised by the council’s claim of a dire need for an emergency management director. I am also happy to see where this was done in an open and transparent manner and not hidden through an executive session.

It is also reassuring to know that Ms. Corrigan refused to follow in the footsteps of those who allowed their personal connections and relatives to be hired. It was nice to see that Ms. Corrigan didn’t sign a term sheet (contract) with Linda Dykeman on July 11, 2017, and the contents thereof because that was never presented to, nor approved by the Town Council. The same would apply to Ms. Antunes, the chief of staff, where Ms. Corrigan again didn’t sign a term sheet on July 6, 2017, because that too wasn’t presented to, nor approved by the Town Council. Knowing that Ms. Corrigan is a business consultant with Ms. Dykeman and connected with Ms. Antunes through the Hope Club, I feel there was surely safeguards in place to make sure cronyism didn’t exist. I’m sure safeguards were in place to remove any appearance of impropriety. The town surely would have followed their personnel policy by way of advertising, reviewing applicants and making these appointments in an open, transparent and non-discriminatory manner, as I’m sure no males applied for those positions.

Thank goodness, the misleading reporting has vanished since the arrival of Ms. Corrigan. No longer can we expect darkness plague our information. No longer can we expect consultants to be hired behind the taxpayers back. No longer will we see where an acting town manager will tell a Providence Journal reporter that her assistant will receive the same pay as the previous administrative assistant only to find out within two weeks she was given a $20,000 increase from what the administrative assistant had been paid.

President Cienki’s letter says, “We are moving forward to get the Town back on the right path.” If this is going forward, please considers going backwards for a while until we catch up.

Maybe I should have started my letter with Open Meeting Act violations, APRA Violations, Town Charter violations, contracts signed without council approval, misleading unfunded liability statements, discriminatory hiring practices, etc., etc., etc. I guess only the names have changed.

– William Higgins

Council Appoints Corrigan Again, But This Time Before Loud, Angry Crowd

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

It was a tale of two towns Monday night, when more than 500 people attended the Town Council meeting to witness their vote on Gayle Corrigan as town manager after Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl ruled Nov. 8 that Corrigan’s original appointment June 19 was null and void because the council did not comply with the Open Meetings Act.

The council was to have voted on Corrigan last Tuesday (11/14) but they failed to secure a large enough venue. Now, in the auditorium at East Greenwich High School (capacity 700+), the council voted 3-2 in favor of Corrigan’s appointment, a decision that was greeted by boos from the largely disapproving crowd. Councilor Andy Deutsch joined Councilman Mark Schwager in voting against Corrigan’s appointment, switching from his yes vote last June. Councilman Nino Granatiero, Council President Sue Cienki and Vice President Sean Todd all voted in favor of Corrigan.

During discussion before the vote, Cienki argued that Corrigan had found financial issues that the town could not ignore and that, despite Corrigan’s failings, it was important to stay the course.

“Is she an unpopular character? Sure. But it’s not about her. These issues are not going away,” Cienki said, referring to financial problems Corrigan is said to have uncovered.

Councilman Schwager and, later, many in the audience, argued that it wasn’t about fixing financial wrongs – if there were wrongs, they should be fixed. Rather it was about Corrigan’s poor management skills and the council’s unwillingness to address the wrongs highlighted by Judge McGuirl.

“Whatever her merits or demerits, Ms. Corrigan has become the focus of attention. She has become a lightening rod. I don’t think she can be effective in this position. We need to rebuild the trust and support of the community and the people in this room,” Schwager said to loud applause.

Councilman Todd had a different view.

“We’re here tonight to clean up some procedural errors that Judge McGuirl pointed out,” he said, then he pivoted to an email sent out by Cienki Friday evening that presented a series of failings from prior town administrators. “We wanted Gayle to come here to help us with these fiscal issues. In the last 15 years … the tax levy when from $29.7 million to $55 million…. We will hit $100 million in 15 years. I ran for office to try to stop this madness.”

Schwager, alternatively, called Cienki’s email “reckless” and said it opened the town up to more lawsuits. (The email placed the blame for myriad stated financial problems on former Town Manager Tom Coyle, whose forced departure June 19 made way for Corrigan, and former Fire Chief Russell McGillivray, who was dismissed in October.)

“Your action was irresponsible,” said Schwager.

“Everything in there was factual,” countered Cienki. When it came time to vote on Corrigan’s appointment, Deutsch fell in with Schwager.

After the meeting, Deutsch said he voted against Corrigan this time because “I feel like it was the right thing to do.” He had said during the meeting he wanted the council to put a timeline on Corrigan’s appointment. Cienki disagreed, saying a specific date was not necessary because Corrigan was an “at-will” employee. Councilman Granatiero said the search for a new town manager was finally ready to go.

“Why don’t we just follow the plan, do the search, do it properly. The recruitment profile is completed. We’re ready to go to market with the ad. We’ve got a date for submission for resumes,” he said.

The council also voted on Corrigan’s contract, which passed 4-1, with Schwager opposing. The council then voted on a series of actions taken by Corrigan and voted on by the council in June, October and November, including the dismissal of town employees and hiring of new employees in late June (4-1, Schwager opposing) and the hiring of a search firm to look for a new fire chief in October (4-1, Schwager opposing). [Ed. Note: an earlier version of this story recorded that vote incorrectly.]

The agenda did not include public comment. President Cienki said before the meeting that public comment had not been included because this was a special session and public comment wasn’t usually allowed for such meetings. But as soon as the meeting started, Councilman Schwager proposed adding public comment and the council voted 5-0 in favor. For the majority on the council, that was the only applause they got all night.

Nineteen people got up to speak during public comment, including brand new East Greenwich resident Bill Perry, president of the EG firefighters union. He and his family just moved into a house on Pardons Wood Lane. Perry has said the firefighters union would sit down with the town but that some people have accused the union of refusing to meet with the town.

“I’ve heard through the grapevine that supposedly we’ve never requested meetings. Mr. D’Agostino, this question’s for you … have we requested through you to open up meetings?” Perry asked Town Solicitor David D’Agostino. “Yes,” D’Agostino replied after a pause.

Jeff Gladstone told the council he only came to the meeting after reading Judge McGuirl’s 73-page ruling. The ruling, he said, made clear that Corrigan’s actions were wrong.

“You followed her down the wrong road. Do the right thing. The people here, we want you to be successful. But in an open and honest fashion,” Gladstone said.

Matt Stark said the council’s desire to make fast decisions had resulted in a loss of credibility.

“If you have a valid case, you need to bring more people into the discussion to make it more credible,” said Stark.

Lisa Sussman said meetings like this did not provide for real dialogue and she asked that the council put on a town forum. Cienki said after the meeting that she would like to do that.

Afterwards, Schwager expressed his disappointment with the meeting’s outcome.

“I think we had the opportunity, especially given the Superior Court opinion, to really change course. We had the information. We had the public outcry. We had the opportunity to put in a new town manager. Unfortunately, we didn’t take advantage of that.”

For Cienki, there wasn’t really a choice.

“I think not keeping Gayle would have put us into more chaos. We’re in the middle of an audit that she’s in charge of. Our financial director also is in charge of the schools too, so to lose both of our financial managers at this time would be detrimental,” she said. Financial Director Linda Dykeman was not on the agenda tonight, but Corrigan and Dykeman were hired within days of each other and Dykeman has been a consulting colleague of Corrigan’s. “We hear people that they wanted transparency and they wanted a more open process. So we’re going to do that,” Cienki said.

As for the lack of residents in attendance who supported Corrigan and Cienki’s agenda, the Town Council president said that didn’t disappoint her.

“A lot of these people work and they have other stuff to do,” she said. “They believe in what we’re doing. People that are happy, they’re not going to come here to complain. They’re not going to come here to make comments. I’m not ever disappointed when people have other things to do in their life…. I’m happy that these people wanted to come because I’m listening to them. I’m listening to everybody. But we had a decision to make and that’s the Town Council’s decision.”

Corrigan did not attend Monday’s meeting.

After the meeting, lawyer for the firefighters and EG resident Liz Wiens said Judge McGuirl had given her until Monday to file a complaint over Monday night’s proceedings.

What to know more about how East Greenwich got to this point? Read our two-part series here: Part One and Part Two

Subscription

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.

Subscription

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.)

Subscription