Corrigan to Limit Information Access to EG News

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan at the Nov. 6 Town Council meeting.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

East Greenwich Town Manager Gayle Corrigan is now formally not talking to this reporter and East Greenwich News. In a letter Jan. 29 to East Greenwich News, Corrigan stated the town “will be limiting their responses to [EG News] to APRA requests.”

“The town manager’s decision to adopt a blanket refusal of talking to a local reporter and her flimsy rationale for that decision are a disservice to both the town and its residents,” said Steven Brown from the Rhode Island ACLU.

Corrigan said she was taking this action after learning that town employee Bob Houghtaling was on the board of EG News, which as a nonprofit news website is governed by a board of directors.

“While Mr. Houghtaling is free to participate as he wishes in non-profit organizations, his participation as a director of East Greenwich news is troubling because it creates an appearance of impropriety and lack of transparency. In fact, East Greenwich News has run stories about and featuring Mr. Houghtaling – without disclosing his relationship with the organization,” Corrigan wrote. Find the letter here: McNamara letter.

Corrigan was correct. EG News failed to disclose Bob’s board membership in an article about a Town Council meeting Jan. 8. We apologize and have amended that story. In addition, we have updated Bob’s bio on his op/ed pieces to reflect his standing on the board.

We strongly protest, however, that East Greenwich News did anything improper or that lacks transparency. Information about EG News and the board has been available on the website since we reorganized as a nonprofit last fall – find it here.

Corrigan ended her letter stating the town would respond to APRA (Access to Public Records Act) requests only:

“From now on, the town will be limiting its responses to Mrs. McNamara to APRA requests, which will continue to be handled in the usual manner and according to statute.”

In practical terms, it’s unclear what will change as a result of this letter, since Corrigan and other top officials have generally declined to share information with EG News without going through the APRA process.

In an interview Tuesday, Town Solicitor David D’Agostino said he had not seen the letter. Even if he had, he said, “I don’t know if it’s a appropriate to weigh in on this letter you have.”

Council Vice President Sean Todd said in an email that he supported limiting access to EG News “because you’ve proven your journalistic professionalism and integrity to be extremely poor at times.”

Todd went on to cite instances of sharing information with a resident who represents the firefighters (true; we stand by the action); not identifying Bob Houghtaling as a member of the EG News board of directors (true; we regret the omission); and retweeting something that offended him (true; humor is tough on Twitter). He also took issue with my having filed an Open Meetings complaint with the Attorney General (the AG found against the town in that complaint) in my name but as editor of EG News (true; not sure why that is an issue).

Todd added, “I stand behind the town’s stance that your access to information should be treated like any other citizen, not as a journalist, and this is why I have not taken a call from you since the summer 2017.”

Councilman Mark Schwager struck a different tone.

“I’d be reluctant to restrict press access to town officials,” he said.

Town Council President Sue Cienki and Councilman Nino Granatiero did not respond to requests for comment. Councilman Andy Deutsch declined to respond.

Police Log: Remote Argument, Ex-Girlfriend Woes, Missing Lion

By Bethany Hashway

Tuesday, Jan. 16

11:30 a.m. – Police were called to Renegade fitness center on Post Road after a fight broke out over use of a TV remote. One of the men involved in the dispute told police that while he was on a treadmill watching television another man had changed the channel. The first man complained to the second man that he’d been watching that particular channel (which was not specified in the report). The second man said the remote was attached to the bike he was using. The first man then grabbed the remote from the man on the bike, who allegedly pushed the first man. The second man denied pushing the first man and told police the first man had used profane language in talking to him. Both parties declined to press charges.

Wednesday, Jan. 17

3 a.m. – EG police picked up a Providence man, 41, from the Wickford State Police Barracks after state police arrested him on a warrant for larceny. The man was processed at EGPD. Police notified Barrington and North Providence police departments because the man  also had warrants out of those departments.

1:41 p.m. – The manager of Cumberland Farms on South County Trail told police that the store received a counterfeit $100 bill the day before. She said on Tuesday two young males bought soda and hot dogs at the store for a total of $8.77, using a $100 bill. The clerk did not check the bill for authenticity before putting it in the drawer. Later, when employees were cashing out, they came across the bill and realized it was counterfeit.

Thursday, Jan. 18

2:10 p.m. – The owner of a hair salon on Main Street told police a lion statue and security camera were missing from outside of his business. He said video footage from the previous night showed a man pulling on a brass lion ornament that is secured to the outside of the building. A short time later the man returned and covered the video camera. The camera and the lion were gone in the morning. The owner said the estimated value of the lion was $125 and the security camera estimated value at $250. Detectives were able to get a copy of the video footage. The owner told police he would contact the surveillance video company and have the company ping the whereabouts of the camera as well as the give the serial number of the missing camera.

Friday, Jan. 19

1 p.m. – A dog fell on ice refer to this story from the East Greenwich News http://eastgreenwichnews.com/?p=11453.

Saturday, Jan. 20

3:15 p.m. – An East Greenwich man told police that while he was playing Pokémon Go on Main Street at around 2 p.m. he had passed his ex-girlfriend, who was with her daughter and new boyfriend and another friend. He said they made remarks towards him and “flipped” him off when they walked past. He told police he had tried to get a no-contact order against his ex-girlfriend but the judge told him there was not enough evidence to get one. He showed police the footage of the one of the friends flipping him off, and asked police to document the incident.

6:25 p.m. – Police reported to Tillinghast Road after a car hit a deer there.  When police arrived on scene they found the car stopped on the side of the road. The driver said he was not hurt and told police that while he was driving north on Tillinghast Road a deer ran out in front of this car and he was not able to stop before hitting the deer. Police found the deer lying on the side of road, with what appeared to be several broken bones. The deer was unable to get up so police shot it. The driver’s car had damage to its front bumper, front lights, grill, and the license plate area.

ACLU: Town’s Social Media Policy Threatens Employees’ 1st Amendment Rights

The Rhode Island ACLU is weighing in on the town’s new social media policy, citing concerns with “its breadth and its impact on town employees’ First Amendment rights.”

The Town Council voted 3-1 in favor of the new policy at its meeting Jan. 22,  with President Sue Cienki, Vice President Sean Todd, and Councilman Andy Deutsch voting in favor and Councilman Mark Schwager voting against (Councilman Nino Granatiero was absent). You can find the policy here: Town of East Greenwich Social Media Policy.

In a letter to Cienki dated Jan. 29, ACLU executive director Steven Brown wrote:

“It is worth emphasizing that attempts to regulate employee social media use, by definition, involve regulating an exercise of free speech. The Town, of course, has the right to restrict certain employee speech – on social media and otherwise – but it must be done carefully to meet First Amendment standards. A major problem with this policy, however, is that it inappropriately conflates an employee’s speech as an employee with their speech as a private citizen.”

The letter continued, “The policy’s restrictions are also extremely vague and open-ended. Among the types of speech that employees, even in their personal capacity, cannot post are comments that ‘ridicule,’ ‘disparage,’ or ‘otherwise bias [sic] against … any protected class of individuals.’ A person privately retweeting, or responding to, some of President Trump’s less tolerant comments over this past year could very well find themselves in violation of this policy.”

Brown’s letter to Cienki also questioned the policy’s caution against employees posting “speech involving themselves or other Town personnel reflecting behavior that would reasonably be considered reckless or malicious.”

“In light of last November’s rather scathing opinion issued by Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl, finding that the Town engaged in knowing and willful violations of the law, would it violate this policy for an employee to make reference to that opinion since it reflects ‘reckless’ behavior on the part of Town officials?” Brown wrote. 

Brown was referring to McGuirl’s ruling that the town violated the Open Meetings Act five times in June and August and also that Town Manager Gayle Corrigan fired a firefighter unlawfully.

He added, “It is difficult to understand the point of demanding that employees’ private social media posts include a disclaimer that they are speaking personally, when the rest of the policy essentially limits their town-related comments to only those that are acceptable in speaking as a town employee. In light of all that has gone on in the town during the past year, we would respectfully submit that more speech, rather than less, should be encouraged among town employees. A policy that so broadly serves only to chill employees from speaking out about improprieties, misconduct or other matters affecting the residents of East Greenwich is a disservice not only to the town and its employees, but to its residents as well. The additional broad censorship of private speech unrelated to town matters also sets a poor example.”

Find the letter from Steven Brown to President Cienki here: EG Social Media Policy letter/RI-ACLU.

Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, who wrote the policy along with town employees, said he was still reviewing the letter and was not yet ready to make “a more expanded comment.”

But, he said, “we take very seriously employees’ freedom of speech. In my review of the policy, I don’t think there was anything in there that was violating the First Amendment.”

Requests for comment from President Cienki were not immediately answered.

 

Council OKs $42K for Highway Garage Study

When garage was built, town had only 20 or so vehicles; now it has 100.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The highway garage was built in 1968.

When highway garage head Jim Fogel first came to work for the town in 1982, the police department had 6 cars. Now it has 30. And the town didn’t take care of fire trucks (the town only got a fire department in 2013 – before that there was a separate fire district) or school vehicles.

Now the town has 100 vehicles – everything from ladder fire trucks to unmarked police cars and they all visit the town’s highway garage on Bear Swamp Road off Frenchtown.

“It’s a busy shop. There are always fire department and police vehicles cycling through for routine maintenance,” said Public Works Director Joe Duarte.

It’s a lot for a facility built in 1967, he said.

In fact, he’s been asking for improvements for years, but there were always been more important matters – a new police station, a refurbished Swift Community Center, school building improvements. Duarte is hoping that maybe this year the town is finally ready to address the highway garage.

Earlier this month, the Town Council approved a $42,000 space needs analysis to be done by HKT Architects, of Somerville, Mass.

According to Duarte, HKT has done lots of projects like these. The firm will draw up preliminary conceptual plans that will provide an estimate of how much it would cost to upgrade the facility.

“We will know exactly how much to bond this project,” Duarte told the council.

While the council can approve this analysis, paying for the actual improvements – borrowing the money – will have to be approved by the voters. Duarte said he hopes the work will be done in time so a bond could be included on the November ballot.

A rescue truck is worked on at the highway garage.

“A good highway garage with a good crew can save a community a ton of money. But we need the right tools,” Duarte said during a recent tour of the highway garage. “If the facility were better and bigger, town equipment would last longer.”

Fogel and Duarte said town vehicles would last longer if they were stored inside. Right now, the only time most vehicles are indoors is when they are being worked on by one of the town’s three mechanics. Even brand new vehicles, such as a $205,000 street sweeper that arrived this month, must stay outdoors.

A few town vehicles are too large to be worked on in the garage – the ceiling is too low to open the cabs on the larger fire engines. Those trucks need to be worked on outside, regardless of the weather. The garage could also use an enclosed machine shop – work like welding is done in the open now. 

According to Fogel, the town poured a concrete slab next to the garage in preparation for an addition in 1982. The addition was never built but the slab is still there, used to park trucks, wash them, and – if they are too big for the garage – to work on them.  

The current salt and sand shed can hold enough for about 2 storms.

Duarte said the town could also use a larger shed to store sand and salt.

“The RI EMA recommends cities and towns have at least a half season’s worth of sand,” he said. EG’s sand shed can hold enough for about two storms; typically the town has 12 to 15 storms a year.

Eager to show the breadth of work done at the facility, Fogel pointed out a new dock his crew had built for the town’s boat launch.

“We do everything at the highway garage, not just plowing,” he said.

This Week in EG: Planning Board Meeting, EG Academy Photo Exhibit

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, Jan. 29

CCK Community Supper – Once a month, the community is invited to supper in the dining room at St. Luke’s Church on Peirce Street. Various local churches take turns providing the food and volunteers. All are welcome. Free will donations are accepted. 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 31

School Finance Committee – The panel meets in the Superintendent’s Conference Room, 111 Peirce St., at 8:30 a.m.

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 is master plan approval for a five-lot subdivision planned for 2415 Division Road and review of the annual municipal Capital Improvements Program. The board meets in Council Chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 1

East Greenwich Academy photo exhibit – If you’re interested in wonderful old photos and East Greenwich history, come to the EG Free Library to see the EG Historic Preservation Society’s exhibit of the East Greenwich Academy. Refreshments will be served and some former members of the Academy will be on hand. From 5 to 7 p.m. Photos will be on display for the entire month.

Friday, Feb. 2

Painting and Pastries Fundraiser – A fundraiser for the EGHS Class of 2020. For $20, you get a canvas, paint, dessert and coffee. To preregister, click here. In the cafeteria at EG High School at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 3

Gaudí’s Barcelona, a virtual tour – The Friends of the East Greenwich Free Library is pleased to announce that educator and world traveler, Marilyn Harris, will present Gaudi’s Barcelona – a virtual tour of some of the best of Antoni Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces. Attendees will tour the #1 most visited attraction in Barcelona, the unfinished giant basilica, “La Sagrada Familia.” On the subject of the extremely long construction period (which began in 1882), Gaudí is said to have remarked referring to God: “My client is not in a hurry.” When Gaudí died in 1926, the basilica was between 15 and 25 percent complete and it is only now in its final phases. Ms. Harris will share information about the Park Güell and Casa Milà (“La Pedrera”) and discuss the unique architectural genius of Antoni Gaudi. Free and open to the public. At 1:30 p.m., East Greenwich Free Library, 82 Peirce Street.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is OFF this week.

Town Boards Need You! – Here’s the list of town boards with vacancies.

  • Affordable Housing Commission
  • Board of Assessment Review
  • Cove Management Commission
  • Historic Cemetery Advisory Commission
  • Historic District Commission
  • Housing Authority
  • Juvenile Hearing Board
  • Municipal Land Trust
  • Planning Board
  • Senior and Community Center Advisory Council

In you are interested, click here for more information and an application. or come to the Town Clerk’s Office at 125 Main St. Submit applications and resumes to the Town Clerk’s office or via email to lcarney@eastgreenwichri.com.

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.

LOOKING AHEAD

Monday, Feb. 5

Library Valentines: Engaged EG is holding a valentine-making session to express your love of libraries – including the EGHS library, currently closed due to lack of funding for a librarian to staff it. From 4 to 6 p.m. at the EG Free Library on Peirce Street. Stop by with your kids (or without!) to make a valentine or two. Supplies and nut-free snacks will be available.

Tuesday, Feb. 6

Tech Nite at New England Tech – An open house at the East Greenwich campus. From 3 to 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 7

Public Forum on Homework – All are invited to attend this conversation about homework led by schools Supt. Victor Mercurio. There will be a second forum in January. In the library at Cole Middle School at 6:30 p.m.

Letter to the Editor: Cienki Says Council Hires & Doesn’t Hire – Which Is It?

As a resident of East Greenwich, I have been closely following the many recent news items related to East Greenwich’s municipal government, including a January 19 article in the Pendulum regarding the Ethics Commission’s investigation of Gayle Corrigan. As I understand it, a threshold issue before the Ethics Commission is whether Corrigan or the Town Council is responsible for hiring the Town’s Finance Director. Having read a few different accounts, I remain unclear.

A January 12 article in the East Greenwich News quotes Town Council President Sue Cienki as saying “Per the Town Charter, the Town’s finance director is appointed by the Town Council, not the town manager. . . . It was the Council’s decision to hire Ms. Dykeman, not Ms. Corrigan’s.” 

EG News confirmed that the article quotes Cienki’s written statement verbatim. 

Yet in a meeting held on December 20 with me, two other residents, and Council Vice President Sean Todd, Ms. Cienki said, “We’re a policy board.  That’s what we do.  The only management control we have is Town Manager.  That’s the only person we appoint and fire.”  The audio clip below contains that statement (the meeting was recorded with the knowledge and consent of all attendees).

I have submitted an email similar to this to the editor of the Pendulum as well.  Has EG News reached out to any of the East Greenwich Town Councilors for their comment to this article? Does their president have a clear understanding of the scope of the Town Council’s powers? Do they?

Thank you,

Anne Musella

Mark Your Calendar: EGHS Wall of Honor Ceremony Is April 11

Honorees include Guy Asadorian and Matt Plain

The Wall of Honor at EGHS can be found in the hallway between the auditorium and the cafeteria.

The 2018 East Greenwich High School Wall of Honor Ceremony will be held Wednesday, April 11, at 6 p.m. at the East Greenwich High School Auditorium.

The ceremony, which usually lasts an hour and a half, will honor five East Greenwich High School graduates who have gone on to success in life and can serve as an inspiration to current students at the school.

Being honored this year are: John Chandler, Class of 1966; Diane McDonald, Class of 1969; Dr. Bernice Pescosolido, Class of 1970; Guy Asadorian, Class of 1982, and, Matt Plain, Class of 1994.

This year’s recipients have achieved success in such varied fields as business, education, mental health, athletics, law, and the world of horses. Profiles of each honoree will be posted on EG News in coming weeks.

It is hoped that their family, friends, classmates and teammates will attend the ceremony to honor this group for its many achievements.  It is also hoped that as many former honorees as can, will also attend the ceremony, which is now going into its 11th year.

The East Greenwich High School Wall of Honor is sponsored by another very successful alumnus, Allen Gammons, of Berkshire Hathaway Gammons Realty, who has stood by it almost from its inception.

If you have any questions concerning the event, please call committee co-chairs Bob Houghtaling at 230-2246 or Chris Cobain at 398-1562.

 

Eying Tough Budget Talks Ahead, School Committee Seeks Bids on Pre-Caruolo Audit

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The School Committee voted Tuesday to send out a request for a proposal (RFP) for a two-pronged audit that would encompass both the district’s finances and education program.

The committee’s solicitor, Matt Oliverio, said he thought it was a good idea to send it out now, to get an idea of what such an audit might cost.

“I don’t know of any other district that’s gone out to bid for this type of audit,” he said during the meeting. “There is a sense of urgency to kind of move it along.… It’s in preparation for anticipating a deficit, anticipating that for a second year in a row you don’t receive adequate funding from the town.”

Oliverio has referred to such an audit as a “pre-Caruolo” action.

The Caruolo Act (R.I. General Law 16-2-21.4) outlines the provisions by which a school committee can sue a town council  if it determines the approved budget appropriation is not enough to carry out its contractual commitments, as well as basic mandates under state and federal law and regulations.

The School Committee asked for a $1.3 million budget increase last year – the most it could request, 4 percent of the $34 million it got in fiscal year 2017. The town gave the district less than half of that, $530,000.

There was some discussion about whether or not the committee could vote to send out the RFP since it was not on the agenda as an action item. But committee members ended up voting 7-0 in favor of sending it out because the agenda has a standing sentence that reads, ““Any items on the agenda may be subject to a vote.”

“You can put the RFP out there and we don’t have to act on it. Why shouldn’t we just put the RFP out there? We think we’re going to need it,” said Committee member Jeff Dronzek. “We don’t have anything to lose, except time.”

The panel also discussed year-to-date spending. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan said in December she would not entertain additional money for the schools until there was a better picture of where the district stood budget-wise.

According to school finance manager Christine Spagnoli, as of the end of December – halfway through the budget year – the district had a deficit of $518,443 (FY2018 year end projections). However, Mark and committee Finance Chair Jeff Dronzek both said that number could change based on a few unknowns.

One of those relates to the new health care plan approved by teachers and paraprofessionals and how it is paid for this year. The district is picking up the $4,000 co-pay for calendar year 2018, but will be reimbursed 50 percent by teachers. The question is, does the district have to pay it all in fiscal year 2018 (which ends June 30) or can the district spread that cost over the calendar year (which comprises half of fiscal year 2019). It’s complicated, and it depends on accounting practices. Spagnoli told the committee Tuesday she is still researching that answer.

The district is also short $72,000 in state aid due to the General Assembly’s failure to pass its budget last summer until weeks into the fiscal year. It’s still unclear, officials say, whether or not the state will be paying that money.

Another unknown is when and how much the district will be reimbursed for certain insurance claims it’s seeking for miscellaneous repairs.

There have been savings in some areas, including in the salaries budget line. Spagnoli said that was due to teachers on leave who are on a higher pay scale (step) who have been replaced by teachers at a lower step.

While that might help the district’s bottom line this budget year, Mark noted, that savings won’t translate to next year, once those higher-step teachers return.

“As we look at next year, we’re going to have to factor in the returning teachers,” Mark said.

Alternatively, the line item for nursing is already at 106 percent. The School Committee’s original budget request to the town had asked for $247,000 for nursing. Under the town’s lower appropriation, the line dropped to $174,000. That is one area the committee could look to for additional money from the town, since nursing services can be dictated by the need of the student population (i.e. students with medical conditions like diabetes that require regular attention).

There’s also the more than $100,000 that was needed to pay for an additional preschool classroom (due to higher than anticipated enrollment of preschool-age children with special needs whom the district is required to educate). The district has known about that expenditure since last summer but the town has so far refused to appropriate additional money for that.

“At what point do we start making a plan, given that we’re projecting a deficit?” said Committee member Matt Plain, referring to going back to the town for more money to cover this year’s costs.

“It’s a good question,” replied Mark. “There are some outstanding issues such as not knowing how much insurance is going to be reimbursing us. And whether or not we’re going to be able to account for some of the healthcare related costs next year instead of all in this fiscal year. I’m not sure we’d be ready to do it now .… When we get to February, we’ll have all of January’s number and a very good sense of February.”

Dronzek agreed.

“We could perhaps by that meeting start to put together what would be the costs that would be documented need,” he said.

The School Committee meets next on Feb. 6. The next budget update will be at their Feb. 27 meeting.

Council Names 6 to Town Manager Search Advisory Committee

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The Town Council Monday night appointed six people to a Town Manager Advisory Committee: veterinary business owner Chad Callanan; real estate business owner Allen Gammons; Cole Middle School Principal Alexis Meyer; labor lawyer and town personnel board member Vin Ragosta; former president of Johnson and Wales Jack Yena; and head of the EG Chamber of Commerce Steve Lombardi.

All but Lombardi are residents of East Greenwich.

Town Council President Sue Cienki said the Town Council would review the 68 resumes that have been submitted and select an unspecified number to be part of the first-round interview process. From there, the advisory committee would conduct interviews with the candidates, in person or by phone, depending on the candidate’s location.

Cienki said the advisory panel would then recommend an unspecified number of candidates to proceed to round two, where they would be interviewed by the Town Council.

“The final vote on the town manager rests with the Town Council,” Cienki said.

As an advisory board to the council, the panel will be subject to the Open Meetings Act, according to Town Solicitor David D’Agostino. That means agendas for meetings will have to be posted 48 hours in advance.

Newly appointed board member Allen Gammons said he had emailed the council to express his interest in serving after hearing they were going to name an advisory board.

“I hope I can offer a open-minded opinion as a lifelong East Greenwich resident,” he said Wednesday when asked how he could contribute. He added he hoped the panel would not become “a political thing” and that their suggestions would be taken seriously.

President Cienki declined to say Monday whether or not current Town Manager Gayle Corrigan was among the applicants. From the day Corrigan was hired, June 19, Cienki has said that her tenure in the post was temporary. In July, Corrigan said she would not rule out applying for the permanent position but that she was “too busy” to think about it at that point. Corrigan’s initial appointment to the town manager position was ruled “null and void” by Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl in November. The Town Council reappointed her by a vote of 3-2 before a largely angry crowd of more than 500 people Nov. 20.

 

Cienki Stands By 51% Figure in Brochure

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

At the end of the Town Council meeting Monday night, President Sue Cienki spoke in defense of statistics offered by the town to illustrate the difficult financial situation she has argued it faces. This came in response to the statement released over the weekend from two residents who had met with Cienki, Vice President Sean Todd and resident Stuart Peterson to discuss the validity of those numbers and statistics.

“I, along with Mr. Todd, met with three members of the public, Anne Musella, Eugene Quinn and Stuart Peterson, to go over some of the financial questions and issues [Musella and Quinn] have. We provided extensive documentation with the anticipation that we would be meeting again … so that we could all come to consensus with those numbers.

It was much to our surprise that they put out a press release saying that our numbers were wrong,” Cienki said.

One number she was referring to was the 51 percent median tax rate increase figure used in a brochure issued by the town last spring. Quinn took every tax bill from the year-span in question (2011 to 2016) and calculated a 14.6 percent increase, not a 51 percent increase.

On Monday, Cienki explained her analysis of the tax rate increase.

“I had said if our numbers were wrong, we would correct it and put corrections on our website. I went back and looked at some property taxes…. I looked at my tax increase – 31 percent, along with most of my neighbors. And I said I looked at various properties throughout the town … I looked at 23 properties and there was only one property that had a decrease, a 2 percent decrease. We saw a decrease of 2 percent and an increase of 79 percent.”

An audio excerpt from the Dec. 20 meeting provided by Musella (and recorded with permission of all in attendance) provides a picture into the discussion:

Sue Cienki: . . . our town manager, our finance director: give me accurate information.

Anne Musella: And then your verification was, it was sort of anecdotal . . .

SC: Does this make sense to the people in your neighborhood? . . . So you do a sanity check. Make sure these numbers are right. And that’s what you say to your finance director. Make sure any information that goes out to the public is right. Connect the dots.

Sean Todd: You just take what your employees give you.

Gene Quinn: But when you finished the flyer and you look at that first page and it says the median tax bill went up 51 percent and the line below that says the tax levy went up 15 percent . . . anybody with any numbers sense should have been able to look at that and said, wait a minute, something’s off there.

Stuart Peterson: I would have if I’d been a part of it. A red flag would have gone off with me.

GQ: Another red flag was, it says median in the beginning and it says mean further back. That never happens. So there’s a couple of indications there that, I think in hindsight should have been caught.

SP: I want to go back to my concern that there seem to be sides. There is a side that seems to be in attack mode of “You are wrong. You are misrepresenting things. How dare you?” And then you have them themselves saying, “Why would we ever want to harm the town?” This was information that was given. But then you’re circling back and saying, “Well you should have known better.” That’s not their job to look at tax levies and rolls like that. I have a problem with that.

AM: It is the role of the Town Council, though, because the Town Council has disseminated information in the name of the town. So there is some responsibility.

SP: So, why would they not believe some information when they were given it by the town manager and the town finance director? Why would they not believe that?

AM: That’s fair. back to your original point at the start of the meeting: How can we correct this information … how can we do this? Because I think that everybody agrees there’s a credibility problem and that’s what’s contributing to the polarization in the town. So when somebody says, “See, there’s a wrong number,” they are going to jump on it. I think it would go a long way to say, these are the numbers.

ST: What did you come up with?

SP: It’s 14.6 … which makes sense because the tax levy …

ST: So the number changed. If the number changed, the number changed. We didn’t have the due diligence of how many months, Gene, the spreadsheets you’ve been sending I can’t open them, they’re so big. You’ve obviously dived into this a lot deeper than Kristen and Wendy Schmidle our IT director. I still go back to our … I still think our town has a spending problem. You don’t. You think we can grow our way out of any fiscal mess.

AM: That’s a philosophical discussion. What I’m trying to do now … we want to hash out the facts.