Hanging Out & Reaching Out: Bob Houghtaling’s Approach to Helping Our Kids 

Bob Houghtaling, director of the town’s drug program, talks about his program at the Town Council meeting Monday night.

When the town hired Bob Houghtaling to be the director of its drug program in 1983 – 34, yes 34 years ago – the big issue was teen drinking. While teens still like to drink alcohol, Houghtaling’s job over the years has shifted to include include both illegal and prescription drug abuse as well as anxiety problems. His report to the Town Council Monday night outlined last year’s statistics but included his job philosophy  – get to know the kids and be a regular part of their life so if or when there’s a problem, they have somewhere to turn for help.

That’s why Houghtaling positions himself at the top of the ramp just outside the East Greenwich High School cafeteria every day at lunchtime. To all the world, he’s just a guy hanging out, chatting and laughing. But there is a method to his “leisure”: he stands there so he will see every student as they pass by on their way to or from lunch.

“I put in a tremendous amount of time ‘hanging out,’” he said Monday.

Actually, Houghtaling does a lot more than hanging out.

His report – which you can find here – includes statistics on his case load the past year, but also the wide variety of activities, initiatives and groups he runs, everything from a local chapter of the national Youth-to-Youth organization and a Civic Action Club to helping out with AfterProm and Safety Town to serving as a liaison to the Juvenile Hearing Board and Citizens Who Care.

The myriad clubs he runs at the high school? “Don’t tell anyone, but they’re all the same club,” Houghtaling confided, “the adolescent angst club.” They each provide a place for kids to talk and to listen to others. That’s important, Houghtaling said, especially now, with kids focused more on their phones than on the people around them.

Houghtaling also spoke of the opioid crisis, which has not left East Greenwich untouched. Three individuals, all East Greenwich High School alumni, died of overdoses in recent months.

“It’s a national epidemic and unfortunately it’s come home,” he said. “We’re going to need the help of the entire community,”

To that end, Houghtaling organized three forums on opioids last year and has another one in just a couple of weeks – “Four Legs to Stand On,” on Sept. 14.

Houghtaling’s job title may be director of the town’s drug program but for him it’s more elemental.

“I try to find as many ways possible to make the young people in the community be safe so they can grow up to become adults.”

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Summer’s End Is Friday!

In addition to the Navy Band Northeast Pops Ensemble, there will be four opening acts selected from a special audition concert at the Odeum last spring.

 It’s time to pull together your picnic supplies, chairs and a cozy blanket – the annual Summer’s End concert takes place on Friday, Sept. 1, at Eldredge Field. The Navy Band Northeast Pops Ensemble is headlining again this year with its usual roster of standards, show tunes and patriotic songs. What’s special this year are the 4 opening acts culled from an original list of 40 submissions in a selection process that took place during the spring. Those 40 acts were narrowed to 12 for a show at the Odeum, with 4 eventual winners.

“It was a much more thorough process than we’ve ever done before,” said Summer’s End President Phil Nutting. “We’re very excited by the quality of the acts.”

Summer’s End 2014.

Local talent Sophie Speca and Maggie Callan – EGHS juniors – will start off the music at 5:30, with Sophie on guitar and Maggie on vocals.

At 6 p.m., Victor Main takes the stage. Main is a guitarist whose performances are tinged with classical, jazz and folk influences.

Country singer Bethany Lynn begins performing at 6:30 p.m. Her performance might include a yodel or two.

The final opening act, on at 7 p.m., is the Billy Harpin Band, a trio from Northern RI who play rock covers and some of their own compositions.

The Navy Band will begin at 7:45 this year.

Nutting thanked sponsors, especially two new sponsors: The Savory Grape and Pierre R. Michaud MD. The Town of East Greenwich is also an important sponsor which, in addition to a financial contribution, provides logistical support and police, fire and rescue assistance throughout the event.

Gates at Eldredge open at 4 p.m. While the event is free thanks to sponsors and individual donors, donations are encouraged Friday ($20 is suggested). Bring your own food or pick up food from vendors at Eldredge. No pets allowed.

And, while we’re on the subject of Summer’s End, Nutting said they are in need of new board members. If you have fundraising or event planning experience, or just love Summer’s End and have some hours to give, send an email to summersendinfo@gmail.com. Learn more about Summer’s End at their website here.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Cienki Apologizes

Council President Sue Cienki started Monday’s Town Council meeting – attendance 140 according to the fire marshal – with an apology for her remarks during a meeting in June with firefighter union representatives Bill Perry (union president) and firefighter Michael Jones, Fire Chief Russ McGillivray, former Town Manager Tom Coyle and Councilman Sean Todd, in which she made threatening comments to Perry and another firefighter not in attendance.

The incident came to light after Perry filed a sexual harassment complaint with McGillivray. An investigation by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino found Cienki did make the comments. The incident was to be discussed by the council in executive session Monday night. The three councilmen not at the June meeting only heard about the incident after it became public last week.

“I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the firefighter union president and anyone else I may have offended. I was speaking inappropriately and I regret it. I have since taken a class in civil discourse and I hope my apology will be accepted,” she said.

On Tuesday, Cienki said the civil discourse class was through the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse. She said she will also be taking part in a workshop on civil discourse when she attends the National Foundation for Women Legislators conference in November.

Perry, meanwhile, has seen two of his family members lose their East Greenwich jobs in recent days: his brother was fired from the fire department and his wife was laid off from the finance department.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Consultant Reviews Firefighter Contracts in Surprise Presentation

The agenda listed the “Town Manager’s Report” but when Town Manager Gayle Corrigan got up to present her report at Monday night’s Town Council meeting, she instead turned the microphone over to outside consultant Michael Walker of Berkshire Advisors of Ohio.

Walker presented a report, titled “Fiscal Impact of FY2014-FY2016 and FY2017-FY2019 Fire Department Contract Changes.” The report was a fiscal analysis, said Corrigan after the meeting. Walker did not consult Fire Chief Russell McGillivray. Rather, he focused on the numbers, she said. Bringing in the chief will come later, said Town Council President Sue Cienki.

It’s unclear how much Walker was paid for his work.

During public comment, three members of the audience questioned the placement of the analysis in the town manager’s report. Specifically, they asked if the town manager had violated the Open Meetings Act.

The Rhode Island Open Meetings Act “requires the agenda ‘specify the nature of the business to be discussed.’ The Rhode Island Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean the agenda must provide reasonably specific notice to the public, so that agenda items that merely say, for example, ‘Old Business’ or ‘Reports’ are improper.”

Resident Rick Tremble asked why Corrigan hired another financial consultant when she herself was hired based on her financial acumen.

“It seems like a self-licking ice cream cone,” he said.

During an interview last week, Cienki was asked if there would be any financial presentation at Monday’s meeting. She said no. After the meeting Monday, Cienki stood by her comment.

“The town manager is in charge of managing the town,” said Cienki. She said she learned of the presentation earlier that day. “It’s the town manager’s report. It’s information…. “

Council Vice President Sean Todd said after the meeting he only learned of the report at 6:45 p.m. “I think that every town manager does things differently. I think we never had a town manager report like that before.”

Todd deferred to Corrigan as town manager to handle the specifics of the meeting and her report.

“It’s a fiscal impact statement,” said Corrigan when asked why it was not a separate agenda item. The EGFD firefighters contract is not up until 2019.

You can find Walker’s report here: Fiscal Impact:EGFD Contracts.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Council Will Discuss Cienki Comments In Executive Session

The Town Council meets Monday, Aug. 28, at Swift Community Center at 7 p.m. The agenda includes discussion of the 2018 sewer budget and a report from Bob Houghtaling, the town’s drug counselor.

In executive session, the council will take up comments made by Council President Sue Cienki to firefighter union head Bill Perry during a meeting in June. Those comments were the basis for a complaint Perry made against the town, charging harassment. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan’s response acknowledged Cienki made the comments but said no action could be taken since she was an elected official.

Councilors Mark Schwager and Andy Deutsch said last week they had requested discussion of the comments be on the Aug. 28 agenda. Schwager said Sunday that it would be discussed as part of the last item on the Executive Session agenda – 11d, which reads “sessions pertaining to collective bargaining or litigation, specifically to discuss on going labor relations matters concerning East Greenwich Firefighters Local 3328, IAFF.”

Cienki did not return requests for comment.



Laid Off Clerk Issued ‘No Trespass’ Order After Retrieving Belongings

The police issued a “no trespass” order against newly laid-off town employee Laurie Perry Wednesday following a complaint by Finance Director Linda Dykeman about Perry’s visit to the Finance Department to pick up her belongings. Perry had worked in the department for two years before learning via certified letter Tuesday that she had been laid off due to lack of work. Perry had been out on leave at the time.

Perry went to Town Hall to retrieve her belongings Wednesday. After she had collected her things, Finance Director Linda Dykeman asked Perry to show her what she had taken. Perry refused and left the building with her husband, Bill Perry, an EG Fire Department lieutenant and head of the firefighters union. That action prompted Dykeman to call the police and ask them to issue Laurie Perry a “no trespass” notice for the Finance Department, which they did.

A police report of the incident can be found here: Dykeman-Perry Police Report. You can find the updated “no trespass” order here: Amended ‘No Trespass’ Order.*

EG Chief of Staff Michaela Antunes issued an email Wednesday afternoon to all town employees that inaccurately described the extent of the prohibition against Perry:

“I am writing to inform you that as a result of an incident that occurred today at Town Hall, a restraining order has been issued to former Town employee Laurie Perry, restraining her from coming to, or entering upon, any Town building or facility. Given this situation, you are directed not to allow Ms. Perry onto or into any Town property without prior authorization or approval from the Town Manager. If you see Ms. Perry at, in or upon Town buildings, facilities, or property, please notify the East Greenwich Police Department at (401) 886-8640.”

According to Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, Perry was in the wrong denying Dykeman permission to see what she had taken but acknowledged that Perry was entitled to her belongings.

“It’s her stuff. She has a right to it,” he said. But he said there’s “a proper way to go about things.”

“If someone who has been laid off and has been out on leave comes in and removes items from the Finance Department, the director has the right to say, ‘What is it that you’re removing?’”

As for the email from Antunes, D’Agostino said midday Thursday that a revision might be issued.

“If the chief of staff’s notice was based on internal information that was subsequently changed, then a revision will be issued,” he said. “You make decisions based on information known at the time. Clearly, this ‘no trespassing’ situation is evolving.”

The police report and no trespass order did not change from Wednesday to Thursday.

Antunes did issue a revised message to town employees Thursday afternoon:

“I am writing to inform you that a revised no trespassing order has been issued to former Town employee Laurie Perry, restraining her from coming to, or entering any private office in any Town building or facility without an appointment. Excluded from this order are public spaces in said buildings and facilities.”

Laurie Perry was the second of Bill Perry’s relatives to be separated from the town in the past five days. Jim Perry, Bill’s brother and a firefighter due to come off probation Monday, was fired Saturday night. Antunes declined to comment on the reason for that action. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan issued a response Monday to a complaint Bill Perry made against Town Council President Sue Cienki.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

* Added Friday, Aug. 25, at 11:25 a.m.

2 Councilors Want Cienki Comments on Monday’s Agenda

Town Councilors Mark Schwager and Andy Deutsch said Wednesday they think the full Town Council should discuss the comments made by Council President Sue Cienki toward two firefighters during a meeting in June. Fire Lt. Bill Perry, head of the firefighters union, was at the meeting and he filed a sexual harassment complaint afterward.

In the complaint, Perry said Cienki threatened the genitals of Perry and a firefighter not in attendance at the meeting. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan, following an investigation by the Town Solicitor, sent a response to Perry Monday that acknowledged Cienki had made the threatening remarks and that she had been counseled to refrain from any further such remarks.

Council Vice President Sean Todd was at the June meeting and had been aware of Perry’s complaint. Councilors Schwager and Nino Granatiero said they had not heard of the complaint until it was made public in media reports late Monday. Councilman Andy Deutsch said he had not seen the complaint until Tuesday, but had heard something about it from former Town Manager Tom Coyle in June.

Deutsch and Schwager have both requested that Cienki’s comments be an agenda item at the Town Council meeting Monday, Aug. 28. As president, Cienki controls the agenda but Schwager said if two councilors request that an item be put on the agenda it usually happens.

“I think it needs to be discussed with the five of us,” said Deutsch. “I think that needs to happen in a meeting.”

“I plan to discuss how the Town Council should address the complaint and the town’s response,” said Schwager. “I think it’s important for the council as a whole to discuss this issue and how to respond to it.”

Schwager said he had talked to Cienki Tuesday but declined to discuss her comments.

“That’s certainly not how I would have handled any negotiation with town employees,” Deutsch said about Cienki’s comments, but he stopped short of criticizing her.

“I’m not going to say anything to condemn a fellow councilor,” he said.

Councilman Granatiero said he too would not have made such comments but that he would not comment directly on Cienki.

“I wasn’t there. I don’t know the context. I’m not going to comment,” Granatiero said. “I don’t judge. I don’t condemn anyway, especially when I wasn’t there.”

He added, “From my world, this doesn’t shock me. I’ve seen worse.”

Councilman Todd said the complaint was “totally, totally ridiculous … the fact that [Perry] said he feels he was harassed.”

Todd said everyone in the meeting was laughing after Cienki made the threats and that Perry made the complaint to divert attention from EGFD overtime spending.

But, he added about Cienki’s comments, “I’m not saying it was ok.”

The Town Council next meets on Monday, Aug. 28, at Swift Community Center at 7 p.m. The agenda has not yet been posted.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Cienki Counseled to Cease Inflammatory Comments to Firefighters

Council President Sue Cienki, center, during a Town Council meeting June 26, 2017.

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan acknowledged Monday in a response to a complaint by Lt. Bill Perry, head of the EG firefighters union, that Town Council President Sue Cienki threatened to cut off Perry’s and another firefighter’s genitals during a meeting June 12.

In the response, Corrigan wrote that Cienki had been “counseled to not make such statements in the future as they are not conducive to productive labor-management relationships.”

But, Corrigan wrote, there was nothing further to do since Cienki is not Perry’s supervisor and, “as a general town officer and elected official, she is not subject to disciplinary action.”

This comes on the heels of an unusual meeting Saturday morning called so the Town Council could appoint someone to serve as acting fire chief while Chief Russell McGillivray was out on a two-week medical leave. No one was listed on the agenda and rumors had circulated that someone from outside of the department would be named. In the end, Corrigan recommended senior fire Captain Thomas Mears to fill in, just as McGillivray had done.

Saturday night, Perry received an email from Corrigan alerting him that his brother, a former Coventry firefighter who was hired by the EGFD last year, was fired.

On Tuesday, Perry’s wife, an employee of the town’s finance office, was laid off.

Chief of Staff Michaela Antunes said Tuesday there would be no comment about either action because they were personnel issues.

The meeting June 12 was held at the request of Perry, who wanted to discuss the comments made by then-consultant Gayle Corrigan during a presentation to the Town Council June 5. Perry said Corrigan’s presentation included misinformation about the fire department. In addition to Perry and Cienki, the meeting including then-Town Manager Tom Coyle, Fire Chief Russell McGillivray, Town Councilman Sean Todd and firefighter Michael Jones (a member of the firefighters executive board).

An investigation into the complaint was conducted by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, who interviewed the people who were at the meeting. The allegations were not disputed.

A request to Cienki for a comment was not answered Tuesday night.

Perry said he is considering legal action against the town.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

New Schedule at Cole, New Principal at Frenchtown, New Special Ed Director for District

School starts in just over a week but the schedule for Cole Middle School was only recently finalized and made public, causing frustration for some parents. Two administrator jobs, however, have been filled, which cuts in half the number of open administrator jobs in the district.

Maryann Crudale was named principal of Frenchtown School for the upcoming school year, taking a leave of absence from her teaching position at Eldredge. Crudale took part in the principal’s residency program under former Frenchtown Principal Cheryl Vaughn a few years ago.

Lisa Hughes was named director of student services. Hughes served as special education department chair in the Scituate Public Schools. Her first day was Monday, Aug. 21.

Both appointments were made by the School Committee in a special meeting Friday, Aug. 18.

The schedule for Cole Middle School was only made public on Friday, in the Superintendent’s Memo, including notice of a 1:25 p.m. dismissal on Wednesdays. That detail, released so soon before the start of the school year, rankled some parents on social media.

“I’m very disappointed right now to be reading about a change in school times from a Facebook post only a week and a half before the beginning of the new school year. Why did the district not send out a letter to middle and high school parents?” wrote one parent over the weekend.

“I’m sorry but how is it that a week before school starts this is not known among the parents? How are those who have to work supposed to adjust for yet more hours that the kids are out of school AND have a shorter lunch time??? Why does none of this need to be approved or debated? I thought we put all this work into elect school committee officials that were going to be in the know and keep people (parents) in the loop,” wrote another.

Supt. Victor Mercurio acknowledged that the schedule was late this year. After the teachers contract was settled in May, a team of teachers and administrators got to work on the 2017-18 schedule, but that was still a couple of months behind when the team would usually get to work on the following year’s schedule. (Had the contract not settled, Mercurio said, the schedule for this year would be the same as last year.)

One of the goals was to lower class sizes at the middle school, which was accomplished for the “core content areas” like ELA, science, and math. Class sizes had been in the mid to high 20s last year. This year, they will be in the lower 20s.

In order to fit in the mandated instructional time, lunches were shortened from 25 minutes to between 21 and 22 minutes, depending on the day.

At the high school, the only difference is the early dismissal on Wednesdays. In recent years, Wednesdays started later for high school students. Now that time, used by teachers as common planning time, will be shifted to the end of the school day.

“There’s no question it’s a change,” Mercurio said. “What I’m happy about is we were able to maintain teaming. We were able to maintain elective offerings in 6, 7 and 8. Overall, it’s a different schedule then what we previously had but I’m pleased with the work the team did.” 

He also praised Cole Principal Alexis Meyer and Asst. Principal Dan Seger for their help in restructuring the schedule, which was done with the help of a consultant.

Mercurio said the job postings for both principal of Eldredge and assistant principal for EGHS remain open. He plans to appoint an acting principal for Eldredge Tuesday (8/22). As for Tim Chace’s former role at EGHS, “If we have candidates and we can move forward this week, we will.”

Needing to fill four administrative positions has been tough.

It’s not unusual to be down one administrator. To be down as many as we are down … is a challenge to say the very least,” Mercurio said.

The admin team of principals and department heads had been remarkably constant in recent years.

“This will be the first year we have to do introductions on the first day,” Mercurio said.

He said he is holding a “Superintendent’s Meet & Greet” on Monday, Aug. 28, for all the teachers and staff of the district, for first time in several years.

“There have been lots of changes in a very compressed period of time. Our goal is to maintain focus and to make sure we’re continuing to do the good work we’ve been doing,” Mercurio said. “While there have been lots of other things that have been taking place in the community in the last several months and coming off of last year – there was a lot going on last year – I think people need to take a breath. I think hopefully they’ve had the opportunity to refresh and recharge over the summer.”

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Capt. Mears Named Acting Fire Chief

By Elizabeth F. McNamara 

The Town Council voted 4-0 to appoint Captain Thomas Mears as acting fire chief in an unusual Saturday morning meeting at Town Hall that was filled to overflowing. The action ends three days of fierce speculation and uncertainty over just who Town Manager Gayle Corrigan was planning to recommend to the Town Council.

During the brief meeting, Councilman Mark Schwager questioned the necessity of the meeting. Fire Chief Russ McGillivray went out on a medical leave Thursday (8/17) and had named Mears to cover for him during his absence, something he had done several times before, both he and Mears confirmed Saturday.

Firefighters and others arrive for the Town Council’s early morning meeting Saturday to name an acting fire chief.

“The reason this meeting was necessary is because according to our charter, the town manager shall, it’s not a “may,” it’s not a “can,” it’s “shall” make a recommendation to the Town Council when the fire chief is out on a disability,” Town Council President Sue Cienki responded.

Cienki said McGillivray had recommended Mears for the job.

“All we’re doing is confirming his recommendation,” she said.

“By putting out an agenda and calling a Saturday morning meeting, you’ve created a tremendous amount of anxiety and insecurity,” Schwager said. “The chief is due to be back to two weeks. The charter calls for an appointment only in the event of an extended absence.”

The clause in the Charter reads: “In case of the extended absence or disability of the Fire Chief, the Town Manager shall appoint an Acting Fire Chief with the approval of the Town Council.”

After the meeting, Capt. Mears (the now acting fire chief) said he had not been told he was the person the Town Council was appointing and had never met or spoken with Town Manager Corrigan. On duty at the Fire Department Saturday morning, Mears had arrived at Town Hall only minutes before the meeting having been called there because of possible overcrowding. He said he had covered for Chief McGillivray perhaps 10 times in the past.

In an interview Thursday, Cienki said she didn’t know who Corrigan was planning to name. When asked if Corrigan would appoint the senior captain to the position as had been regular practice, Cienki said she did not know.

“I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on,” Cienki said after the Saturday morning meeting. She said the meeting needed to be held and that it “was not trolling of the fire department.”

She added, “I told you it was no big deal. I didn’t say who because I didn’t know Tom Mears’ name. I didn’t know who Russ appointed. I didn’t know he appointed anybody.”