Corrigan on Fire District Merger: Well Intentioned But Flawed

Gayle Corrigan holds an audit from the EG Fire District during a presentation before the Town Council Feb. 26.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan told the Town Council Monday night that the town’s decision in 2013 to make the independent EG Fire District into a town department was not well considered and may well hurt fire department services in the long run.

“It’s not meant to point fingers,” she said. “Let me say that the decisions made at the time were well intentioned.”

Her presentation (found here: EG Fire District Analysis) came nearly two weeks after she emailed a letter to residents in which she said one of the reasons the town needed an extension to March 31 for its Fiscal Year 2017 audit was the failure of the town to do its due diligence when taking over the fire district. Specifically, she wrote:

When the Town took over the former East Greenwich Fire District in 2013, it also took on potential liabilities for the district’s illegally collected impact fees, which could ultimately cost the Town more than a million dollars. This information was not disclosed to the Town or its residents, as little due diligence was done at the time. There is no evidence that the Town conducted any fiscal analysis or risk assessment on the economic ramifications of taking over the former Fire District as a Town department.

On Monday, Corrigan did not explain why the takeover of the EG Fire District led to the need to request more time for the audit. Rather, she presented what she called a fiscal analysis of the fire service before and after the merger. She praised the intricacies of the Fire District’s bookkeeping, noting that what had been explained over several pages in Fire District days was reduced to a few lines once the town took over.

In general, she said, the former Fire District – which was its own municipal taxing entity run by a board of five commissioners elected at a fire district town meeting (quorum of 30) – ran a relatively tight ship. In 2002, the district passed a resolution imposing impact fees on all new commercial development, with the idea that it would generate money for a fund to be used for large purchases, such as a new fire truck. But the district could also raise the tax rate if it needed to make a big purchase – a good thing, Corrigan said.

Starting in 2006, that particular attribute (limitless taxing ability) was no longer shared by the town. That year, the state General Assembly passed S-3050, which capped the amount cities and towns could increase taxes each year to 4 percent of the previous year. That law has never applied to fire districts.

They could tax their way out of any situation,” she said, referring to the fire district (you can see the variance in tax rates year to year on page 16 of Corrigan’s report, linked above.)

For many years, the fire district also had around $300,000 in annual revenue from the City of Warwick, which paid the district to cover Potowomut (which is not contiguous with the rest of Warwick). Warwick built a small fire station in Potowomut and discontinued that arrangement in 2015.

Corrigan also noted state payments of around $1 million between 2008 and 2012 to make up for car tax revenue it had discontinued, but that money would have been collected by the district had it not been discontinued by the state.

Those different revenue streams added up to a healthy fire district that could afford to buy new equipment without much strain, Corrigan said.

As luck would have it, the party ended around the same time the town took over the fire district. No more Warwick payments, no more state payments in lieu of car taxes. And no more commercial impact fees – the Town Council discontinued those with the merger.

Then things got worse. A lawsuit over those fire district commercial impact fees was resolved in 2016, against the town. In 2017, the town learned it would be on the hook for any commercial entity who paid Fire District impact fees, not just those that brought the lawsuit. The total amount, including fees and interest, could exceed $2 million.

Always, pension costs were rising, as they have been for all public employees.

The question hanging out there after Corrigan’s presentation was, should the town have taken over the fire district?

Council President Sue Cienki refused to weigh in on that, though she did echo Corrigan’s statements that it was a good thing that the former fire district was able to raise taxes above the town’s cap of 4 percent. That was a change from her usual line that taxes are too high. Cienki was the one behind the move to cut the tax rate for this fiscal year. 

The reality is that had the fire district remained independent, the judgment over those commercial impact fees would remain the same; pension costs would remain the same; the lack of money from Warwick would remain the same; the end of state reimbursements for car tax would stay the same. The only difference would be the collective bargaining agreements the town signed with the firefighters union in 2013 and 2016, which Corrigan has said are overly generous to the firefighters and over which the town is now suing the firefighters.


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Seal Comes to Water Street; Mystic Aquarium Is Monitoring

A harbor seal on the boat ramp near the shanties on Water Street Tuesday afternoon.

Do not touch or feed the seal, says Mystic Aquarium. 

East Greenwich, R.I. – The little guy appeared Monday in front of one of the shanties on Water Street south of Rhode Island Clam. A little more than 2 feet long, with a mottled gray-black coat, it was a the harbor seal. They are pretty common in Narragansett Bay this time of year but not so common hanging out near Water Street.

Needless to say, our new friend has caused a bit of a fuss, with passersby and those who’ve seen photos on social media stopping to say hello. On Tuesday, it was moving around, lifting its head, and occasionally opening its mouth. It did not appear to be in distress.

According to Allen Gammons, the seal was first seen by quahogger Joe Amato, who contacted Mystic Aquarium. Gammons said someone from the aquarium checked out the seal Monday and said it was OK and would return to the water without help. Sure enough, when the tide came in Monday afternoon, the seal swam off. Tuesday morning, it returned.

The wound is below the seal’s top fin.

Sarah Callan, animal rescue program assistant manager at Mystic Aquarium, said Tuesday volunteer first responders have been checking in on the seal multiple times since first alerted Monday. While the seal does have a wound on its side, Callan said it appears to be healing.

“They have pretty remarkable healing capabilities for a wound like that,” she said. “Unless we see other behaviors or symptoms, we’re kind of just monitoring him right now. We want to give an animal every chance to remain in the wild.”

Callan noted the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act actually prohibits people from getting closer than 150 feet of a mammal like the seal. She acknowledged that would be difficult with this particular seal, considering how close it is to Water Street.

The MMPA says people are not supposed to approach, harass, or harm any marine mammal. In the case of this particular seal pup – estimated to be around 6 weeks old – “any stress could slow the healing process,” said Callan. 

She noted that seals will haul out for days at a time and the fact that this seal has been going in and out of the water and is responsive means the aquarium will not intervene.

“Right now, we’re keeping a really close eye on him,” said Callan. “If rehabilitation is warranted, we will bring him in.” 

Harbor Seal Update 3/1/18: Our friend was picked up by Mystic Aquarium Wednesday and taken to a more secluded beach in Rhode Island, where it quickly disappeared into the water. Fingers crossed.

Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts from Save the Bay:

 Give the animal plenty of space. Crowding around stresses the animal and may cause it to act aggressively.

 Keep pets away from the stranded animal. Not only can they bite and cause injury to the animal, but may be injured by the animal. Diseases can also be transmitted between stranded animals and pets.

 Do not pour water on a seal, feed it, cover it or attempt to move it into the water. It is normal for seals to come ashore to rest – they often choose to be dry.

 Do not touch the animal. All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This law makes it illegal to touch, disturb, feed or otherwise harass marine mammals without authorization. Seals of Narragansett Bay

 Be observant. Take note of any obvious signs of injury, the overall body condition of the animal (is it robust or emaciated?), identification tags, the presence of other animals (especially important with dolphins), the sea state, and any recognizable landmarks that will make it possible to locate the animal.

For more information about harbor seals, click here.


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Judge Takes Town to Task in Legal Fees Decision

McGuirl ruled last week the town must pay $41,905 in legal fees for Open Meetings Act violations decided last November.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The East Greenwich Town Council during debate over the appointment of Gayle Corrigan following Judge McGuirl’s ruling Corrigan’s original appointment was “null and void.”

One week after Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl ruled that the Town of East Greenwich must pay $41,905 in legal fees for five Open Meetings Act violations McGuirl found against the town last November, a transcript was released that makes the judge’s sentiments clear. (Find the decision here: Town of EG v. EG Firefighters Legal Fees Decision.)

“I am going to award [lawyer Ms. Wiens] what I consider reasonable fees for the extraordinary work and effort she put into this case. I think the $300 hourly rate is reasonable…. I think the breakdown [of hours] is more than reasonable. And I would be shocked if [Town Solicitor] D’Agostino’s hours would be much different than her hours.”

The challenges in the case, and Judge McGuirl conceded those challenges, were that it is very unusual for OMA complaints to reach litigation (most are determined by the Attorney General) and that the wrongful termination part of the case overlapped with the OMA complaints.

East Greenwich firefighters argued that firefighter James Perry was fired illegally and part of that reasoning had to do with the appointment of Town Manager Gayle Corrigan (who did the firing), which McGuirl found to have been done in violation of the OMA. McGuirl rendered Corrigan’s appointment “null and void.”

Before McGuirl read her decision over the legal fees Feb. 19, lawyer for the firefighters, Elizabeth Wiens, explained to the judge that she’d lowered her hourly rate from $350 to $250. Wiens said she was hoping to avoid incurring higher legal fees with that offer. The town, however, rejected that proposal and did not offer a counterproposal.

“What did [the Town Council] think a fair number was, Mr. D’Agostino?” asked Judge McGuirl of David D’Agostino, the town solicitor for East Greenwich.

“They did not provide me with that information,” he replied.

D’Agostino argued that work for municipalities is usually billed at a lower rate. McGuirl asked how much D’Agostino got paid an hour by the town.

“$150 an hour,” he said.

“And you have a retainer of $11,000 a month, correct?”

“That is correct,” he said. (D’Agostino is paid $11,250 a month by the town.)

“The last time you came here you had a labor lawyer with you. I’m still not quite sure why. How much does he get paid from the Town?”

McGuirl was referring to lawyer Tim Cavazza, who has been representing the town on firefighter labor issues since last summer. Cavazza’s firm, Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder and Siket, was paid $104,000 for work completed through November, including nearly $17,000 for the James Perry litigation according to the invoice.

D’Agostino said Cavazza billed $250 an hour.

“So the Town paid $250 for him and $150 for you; $400 an hour for those issues?”

“That would be accurate, your Honor,” D’Agostino said.

But D’Agostino argued “the thrust of the Town’s argument really is that it’s difficult to ascertain” the appropriate legal fees. He added, “Initially this was a litigation that was really an employment action far and above an OMA action…. we’re suggesting that the total amount of attorney’s fee awarded in this case should be reduced to reflect the fact that, from the face of the complaint, only about one-third of the issues in the case related to OMA.”

“Did you go through a timeline for the trial itself?” asked the judge. “… because it wasn’t a third at that point.”

“No, your Honor, it wasn’t. It certainly was more,” D’Agostino said.

McGuirl said at the onset she’d thought the OMA part would be less. “Clearly that wasn’t true,” she said. “All the issues, including the firing of Mr. Perry and the employment issue, again, there was a portion related to her appointment and the Open Meetings Act. So I don’t know how you could suggest the trial itself involved a third of the Open Meeting Act.”

She questioned how D’Agostino knew that the OMA portion was only about a third of the case.

“What is that based on?” McGuirl asked. “Did you go page by page, witness by witness, exhibit by exhibit, or are you just throwing this issue out now on a memo that was prepared on Friday, since this was pending since November?”

She added, “Quite frankly, you should have been better prepared for this argument…. There is no way that the issue involving the Open Meetings Act involved one-third or, in my opinion, less that half of this trial.

After this back and forth, both sides rested and the judge proceeded to read her decision.

“I have to say this is the first case I’ve had for attorney’s fees that the parties have not been able to work it out,” she said.

McGuirl went on to say at the first conference with both attorneys, she made it clear she was only interested in the town paying for Wiens’s legal fees relating to the Open Meetings Act. She said she had been hesitant about Wiens’s original request for $350 an hour, noting ”there’s just not that many of these cases done and litigated where attorney’s fees are awarded.”

“My general sense the fees were between $250 and $300,” she said, noting that the town had not provided any affidavits as to what it thought was “a fair and reasonable fee.”

McGuirl balked at D’Agostino’s assertion Wiens’s fees were unjustified without offering any backup.

“His bland assertion at this point in time, without any factual basis, is disserving to the Court,” she said.

Ultimately, McGuirl said, “we need to look at the time and labor involved, the amount of work done, the uniqueness or difficulty in presenting the issues, obviously, legal experience involved in it, the results that were obtained, the time limits on the case, and any other issues that the Court should take into consideration.”

McGuirl said she thought the challenge of proving the OMA violations and “the willfulness of the act” would give rise to a higher than normal hourly rate.

McGuirl noted that the court and Wiens had had to deal with the fact that the town did not have meeting minutes for two of the meetings dealt with at trial, making things more difficult.

“I blame that on the Town of East Greenwich in the preparation and underlying actions, in fact, that resulted in the decision I made” against the town.

With regard to the determination of what time Wiens spent on the termination of firefighter James Perry versus the Open Meetings Act complaints, McGuirl said, “Unless it was a very clear issue, those issues in my mind were clearly interrelated during the course of the trial. One of the issues with regard to determination of Firefighter Perry, obviously, involved the authority of the Town Manager to do that, which was inherently intertwined with the Open Meetings Act and her appointment.

“I think the hours she’s related are justified…. It was a very work-intensive case. Both parties spent a lot of work and time on it,” said McGuirl. “The Town, again, is disappointed. The Court is, again, disappointed with the Town.”

She continued, “I am going to award [Ms. Wiens] what I consider reasonable fees for the extraordinary work and effort she put into this case. I think the $300 hourly rate is reasonable…. I think the breakdown [of hours] is more than reasonable. And I would be shocked if Mr. D’Agostino’s hours would be much different than her hours.”

In conclusion, McGuirl said, “Fees awarded … are more than justified, reasonable, and necessary for the services performed for the people of East Greenwich and the people in the state to make sure the Open Meetings Act of Rhode Island is complied with in East Greenwich.”

Interestingly, the establishment of awarding legal fees to the prevailing party in an OMA case derives from Tanner vs. East Greenwich, from 2005.


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This Week in EG: Council, School Committee Meetings; MLK Reading

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, Feb. 26

Community Supper – The monthly community dinner known as Christ Community Kitchen takes place in the dining room at St. Luke’s Church, 111 Peirce St., from 5 to 6:30 p.m. This month, the dinner is provided by the EG United Methodist Church and the menu includes jambalaya prepared by the chef from Besos! The meal is free but donations are welcome. All are invited.

Town Council meeting –  Among the items on the agenda (find it here), the Town Council will weigh renewing the liquor license for The Grille on Main; Police Chief Steven Brown will talk about safety issues; and the council will get a finance update.

                Additionally, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan will review the merger of the Fire District with the town. Corrigan met with former Fire District commissioners Steve Bartlett and Bill Daly on Friday, along with former Fire Chief Peter Henrikson. The town is on the hook for upwards of $2 million in payments and interest for impact fees imposed by the Fire District that were later determined by the state Supreme Court to have been applied without due process – now those impact fees must be returned. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Swift Community Center.

Tuesday, Feb. 27

EG Chamber ‘Business After Hours’ – Performance Physical Therapy is hosting this month’s  EG Chamber of Commerce networking event. 5750 Post Road (across from Felicia’s). 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Members $5; non-members $10.

MLK Jr.’s ‘Letter From Birmingham City Jail’Mixed Magic Theatre will present a dramatic reading of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter From Birmingham City Jail,” at the First Baptist Church, Sponsored by the EG Academy Foundation and First Baptist Church of East Greenwich. 7 p.m.

School Committee meeting – Agenda items include a school safety update, the second reading (out of three) on the 2018-19 school calendar, an update on the district’s fund balance and a review of collective bargaining agreement fiscal impact statements. Find the complete agenda here. In the library at Cole Middle School starting at 7 p.m.

Zoning Board meeting – Among other items on the agenda (find it here), the board will take up the planned mixed-use development for 695 Main Street, the empty lot former home of the former Sunoco station.

Wednesday, Feb. 28

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.

Thursday, March 1

Happy March! Spring is a mere 19 days away.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is OFF this week.

LOOKING AHEAD

School Budget Workshops in March – Administration, Athletics and Facilities on March 6 at 7 p.m.; Student Services (Special Ed) and Technology on March 8 at 6:30 p.m.; and Elementary and Secondary on March 13 at 6:30 p.m. All meetings will take place in the library at Cole Middle School and the public is welcome to attend.

Saturday, March 10

Introduction to Pysanky – The Friends of the East Greenwich Library will present an Introduction to Pysanky workshop at the East Greenwich Free Library, 82 Peirce Street, Saturday, March 10, 1 to 3 p.m. Pysanky is the colorful Ukrainian folk art of decorating Easter eggs by applying layers of beeswax and dyes to the eggs. Artist Lisa Schipritt will instruct. The class is open to teens and adults. All supplies will be provided for a $5 materials fee. Everyone will take home a decorated egg. The class is limited to 20 people and registration is required. Call the library at 884-9510 to register for this popular class. For more information about the program or The Friends of the Library, contact friendseglibrary@gmail.com.

The Avengers Movie at EGHS – This is a fundraiser for the EGHS Sailing team (which gets no funding through from the school district). For just $10 you can watch The Avengers while supporting the Avengers Sailing team at the EGHS Auditorium. All are welcome.

Saturday, April 7

EG Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5K & 1 Mile Fun Run – The East Greenwich Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5k and 1 Mile Fun Run is coming up on Saturday, April 7, starting at 9 a.m. at Goddard Park. Proceeds go towards fully funding the popular Summer Track Series for ages 4-14 (do not have to be an EG resident to participate) on Wednesday nights in July at the EGHS track. We’ve been able to provide the series for free for 6 years. Last summer, 300 children came out during the first week! Find out more and register here.

Feeling the Love for EG News

Donors explain why they give.

In this month of love stories about East Greenwich, here’s what some East Greenwich News supporters are saying about why they’ve donated.

The in-depth reporting that Elizabeth McNamara is doing is critical to our understanding of what is really happening in our local government. We need this type of reporting to combat the lack of transparency that currently exists in East Greenwich government. – Susan Ramsey

In this day and age, supporting a free press is essential, in my opinion…. Keep up your strong investigative journalism! – Daisy Bassen

In an era of fake news, there’s more information out there than ever before. Unfortunately, there’s less knowledge, never mind insight, than ever before, too. We all benefit from smart shoe-leather reporting and sharp questioning like that in EG News. – Mark Thompson

Thank you for providing a free press for EG. Your excellent reporting is very important with all that is happening in this community now. Keep up the good work! – Susan Millis

You’re doing a great job for EG! I read it faithfully. – Sarah Francis

Your reporting has been important in recent months re: town management and politics. Thank you. – Dan Bryant

I’m so grateful for East Greenwich News. Like many residents, I rely on them to provide information on town activities, School news and Town government news. Thank you for this important service! – Jean Ann Guliano

Thanks for the work you’re doing, particularly with local politics/town management. – Phil Nutting

These are just a few of the people who have taken the time to make a donation or sustaining contribution this month. Join them today and part of your donation will be matched! Click on the Donate button below. And, thanks!



 

Police Log: Pig at Large, Oaks Graffiti, Missing Plow

By Bethany Hashaway

Wednesday, Jan. 31

2:26 p.m. – A resident from South County Trail told police that she had received a phone call from a male who identified himself as an attorney named “Steven Lewis.” He told her that her grandson was in trouble for a “DWI” in another state and needed $4000 to pay his attorney fee so that he could help her grandson. He told her to go to a “Best Buy” store and buy two $2000 gift cards and then call him back for more directions. She went to the Best Buy store where the clerk told her it was a scam, so she did not to buy the gift cards and called the police instead.

Thursday, Feb. 1

4:50 p.m. – Police got a report of a black pig wandering down the roadway and they went to a nearby house where they knew farm animals were kept. The owners of that home said the pig lived at another location on Carrs Pond Road. Police notified the residents of that address and the pig was returned home.

Friday, Feb. 2

1:59 p.m. – Police arrested a West Warwick man, 64, for driving with an expired license after the driver was involved in a car accident on the west bound Route 4 North off ramp. Routine checks showed the man had an expired license. He was issued a District Court summons and released at the scene; a licensed driver drove the car from the scene.

Saturday, Feb. 3

12:35 a.m. – Police arrested a North Kingstown man, 26, for driving on a suspended license after stopping him because of an expired inspection sticker. Routine checks showed his license and registration were suspended. He was issued a District Court summons for driving on a suspended license and a summons for violation of inspection sticker. The car was towed; plates were seized by police.

1:51 a.m. – Police arrested a Providence woman, 34, for driving on a suspended license after she was involved in an accident on Division Road near New England Tech. Routine checks were done, and they found the driver’s license had been suspended. She was issued a District Court summons for driving on a suspended license and released.

8:13 a.m.- Police were dispatched to 66 King St. for the report of structure fire. When police arrived on scene they found smoke coming from the wall on the east side of the building in a first floor apartment. A short time later East Greenwich Fire Department arrived scene and put out the fire. The investigation revealed that the fire had started around a gas-fired heater exhaust vent pipe. Residents of the building had to evacuate pending resumption of utilities.

Sunday, Feb. 4

8:30 a.m. – The owner of the Oaks Tavern, 63 Duke St., told police that an employee told him that the men’s bathroom was vandalized Friday night. In addition, someone had left graffiti on the ceiling in the bar area where someone had written with a black marker different words with a “tagging” design.

4:11 p.m. – A Frenchtown Road resident told police that his snow plow had gone missing from his backyard. He told police there were tire marks in the snow leading up to where the plow had been stored.


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Town Ordered to Pay $41,905 In Legal Fees for 2017 Trial

Council President Cienki decries the ruling, says Town Council will consider appeal.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl ordered the town to pay $41,905 in legal fees earlier this week for the six-day trial last fall after which McGuirl ruled the town had knowingly and willfully violated the Open Meetings Act in the appointment of Town Manager Gayle Corrigan among other actions.

When Judge McGuirl made that ruling, she ordered the town to pay legal fees to attorney Elizabeth Wiens, who tried the case on behalf of the East Greenwich firefighters. The other part of the case, in which the judge ruled firefighter James Perry had been fired illegally and needed to be reinstated, is not covered by the legal fees ruling.* 

McGuirl said Monday this was the first time she had had to rule on a legal fees motion, noting that the two sides have in the past worked it out between themselves.

Town Council President Sue Cienki responded to the judge’s ruling in an email to residents Thursday evening:

On Monday, Superior Court Judge McGuirl issued a decision to award nearly $42,000 in legal fees to the East Greenwich Firefighters’ Union for litigation involving the Town Council’s Open Meetings Act violations. We are deeply disappointed with this decision. The Union’s attorney, Liz Wiens, initially claimed that her services for just the OMA portion of the lawsuit were worth $55,000. We believed that number was drastically inflated, and argued that the time Ms. Wiens spent on the OMA portion of the suit was far less than she claimed. The Town and Ms. Wiens were unable to reach an agreement on appropriate fees and Judge McGuirl ultimately set the fee at $41,905. This demands further Council discussion and we intend to explore our options, including appeal, on Monday evening in executive session.

This follows the revelation earlier this month that the town paid $104,000 for legal services – including $15,000 for the James Perry litigation – to the law firm Whelan Corrente Flanders Kinder and Siket for work billed between August and November. Town Solicitor David D’Agostino tried the Perry–OMA case for the town.

In an interview Thursday, Wiens said she went through her hourly entries and separated out the OMA work from the Perry work as much as she thought fair. The judge then reviewed the same entries and further reduced the time for the OMA violations, according to Wiens. For instance, if Wiens listed one day as six hours total on the East Greenwich trial with four on OMA and two on Perry, McGuirl split the six in half, three on OMA and three on Perry.

According to Wiens, McGuirl also questioned her initial $350/hour fee, and asked both lawyers to research the going rate for OMA legal work. In response, Wiens offered to cut her fee to $250/hour. D’Agostino took that offer to the Town Council and they refused. McGuirl then stepped in and ruled the town needed to reimburse Wiens at a rate of $300/hour, for a total of $41,905.

Read an email from Wiens to D’Agostino here outlining her $250/hour proposal: Wiens email on legal fees.

* The default rule is that parties have to pay their own legal fees. But the OMA has a section saying that the municipality has to pay the legal fees if it is in violation of the act. Because there are no real damages awarded under the OMA (others than a $1,000 penalty), boards may have little incentive to comply.


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EG Love Stories: Two Guys – One from Italy, One from Guatemala – And Pizza

Victor Vargas and John Illiano, pizza maker and owner respectively, of Frank and John’s Pizza on Main Street.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

It is “Old EG” heresy to suggest that there is any pizza as good as Frank and John’s From Italy pizza. It’s a thin-crust pie that glistens with oil and sometimes cooks a shade beyond brown. The occasional bubbles in the crust are the stuff of legend – even a lucky charm for some.

Quite simply, it’s delicious.

The Main Street mainstay started with two guys from Italy. That was the name originally – Two Guys from Italy – until the national Two Guys pizza chain threatened legal action. Frank Illiano and his nephew John Illiano – who came to the U.S. from Naples – changed the name to Frank and John’s From Italy. In 1972, John took over the restaurant. He may have aged over the decades but it’s awfully hard to tell. He remains the white-shirted, white-aproned, wise-cracking head of the kitchen.

The other guy behind the magic today at Frank and John’s is Victor Vargas, from Zacapa, Guatemala. Victor’s been working at the restaurant since 1995, when he got a job there washing dishes. Today, he’s the one usually working the pizza dough and making the pies. He waits tables too, if the need arises.

They have a playful, easy relationship born of years working side by side and, undoubtably, a little bit of luck when it comes to chemistry.

Victor’s wife, Carla, who often handles the front of the restaurant, says Victor doesn’t want to leave John alone.

Which means the old Two Guys still has two guys. It works.


This is one in a series of East Greenwich love stories we will be featuring during February in conjunction with our February matching donation drive. Find out more about the drive here. Or click on the Donate button below. And, if you have a love story you’d like to share – anything from a story about best friends or a child and their pet to love of a special place or business in East Greenwich – email egreenwichnews@gmail.com.

 





Former HR Director Sues Town Over Lost Job

Third Former Employee to File Suit For June 30th Action

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Sharon Kitchin, who served as the town’s director of human resources, filed suit against the town last week, citing wrongful termination. She is the third out of three employees who were fired by Town Manager Gayle Corrigan June 30 to sue.

This is the sixth lawsuit filed against the town since August. The town has also filed suit against the firefighters union.

In her complaint, Kitchin accuses the Town Council of violating the Open Meetings Act and the Town Charter, now-familiar accusations following the lawsuits filed by the two other former employees as well an earlier lawsuit already ruled upon by Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl in which she described the town’s failure to comply with the Open Meetings Act as “willful and knowing” and issued a fine. McGuirl also found the town violated the Town Charter but deferred to town residents of the town to handle that wrongdoing. (Find the complaint here: Kitchin v Town of EG.)

In addition to those charges, Kitchin accuses the town of failing to pay “comp time” back wages.

Corrigan fired Kitchin, former assistant to the town manager Pam Aveyard, and former Finance Director Kristen Benoit shortly after being appointed Town Manager June 30, in letters that told the employees they were being “separated” from the town for “budget restructuring and fiscal consolidations” called for under the so-called “One Town” consolidation plan Corrigan was implementing.

In her complaint, Kitchin notes that the Attorney General and Judge McGuirl have ruled that the Town Council’s hiring of Corrigan June 19 was illegal since it was done without proper notice and the vote was not taken in public. The complaint notes the Town Council again violated the Open Meetings Act, as found by both the AG’s office and McGuirl, when it discussed the June 26 the consolidation plan without notifying Kitchin that her job was being discussed, as was her right as a department head. Also, the council did not vote to approve the firing of Kitchin in public session.

The complaint notes Kitchin was not terminated because of a lack of funds since the HR position remains funded in the town’s current budget.

The complaint says the council violated the Town Charter by not discussing the “One Town” plan – which it characterized as “a major policy initiative with enormous potential impact on the public and governmental operations” – in open session.

Kitchin also argues the town failed to pay her for 10 hours of compensatory time she had earned by working beyond normal her normal workday.

Town Solicitor David D’Agostino said Wednesday via email that the town would issue a response by the end of the month.

In the meantime, I am not inclined to comment on pending litigation, other than to indicate that the matter (as with all claims against the Town) have been submitted to the Town’s insurer for appropriate action,” he said.

D’Agostino noted, however, that some of the actions cited in Kitchin’s complaint and found as violations by both Judge McGuirl and the Attorney General’s office were remedied Nov. 20, when the Town Council voted to re-appoint Corrigan and reaffirm decisions made by her, including the June 30th firings, during a properly noticed public meeting.

Judge McGuirl ruled earlier this week that the town owed $41,905 in legal fees to the lawyer representing the EG firefighters in the November lawsuit where the judge found in the firefighters’ favor on Open Meetings Act violations. The town also paid $104,000 in legal fees between August and November to the law firm Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder and Siket, in addition to the monthly $11,500 paid to D’Agostino.


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Letter to the Editor: Dear Students of East Greenwich

I am reaching out to express my deepest remorse and apologies for the senseless gun violence you and your friends and classmates have relentlessly witnessed during the innocent years of your youth because of the misguided judgment and fathomless corruption of our leadership at every level.

It is unavoidably evident that we have profoundly failed to protect you because of our complacency, our greed, and the malignancy that power can bring. In the face of this most difficult time, your voices are the antidote. It is your time to organize and join with your brother and sisters in Florida and around the nation and demand common sense gun laws and safe schools. Don’t wait for another election cycle only to have money and corruption stymie change while your friends and dedicated teachers are dying on the front lines.

Organize a walkout, for just twenty minutes, or for a day, or more boldly, tell all your friends and allies next door and across the nation: no students in schools anywhere until military style assault weapons are banned everywhere. Hold closely in your heart, that you, your brothers and sisters are the future and safe passage is your right. Go forth, be kind and do well by each other. We then may have a new day. 

Respectfully yours,
Lindsay Daskalopoulos

P.S. There is a discussion about gun violence this weekend (2/25) in our community – What We Can Do About Gun Violence, at 11 a.m. at Temple Torat Yisrael, 1251 Middle Road. Open to all.