Council Convenes Much Anticipated Meeting Monday at Swift – Capacity 253

Agreement with School Committee, discussion of Town Manager job on agenda

June 23, 2017 – The Town Council will meet Monday (7/24/17) for the first time since they adjourned their overcrowded July 10 meeting early amid yelling and disorder. A joint session with the School Committee is among the items on the agenda as are other items that were not heard at that failed meeting, including discussion of the Town Manager position.

The July 10 meeting took place in Council Chambers at Town Hall, which has a capacity of 165. The JULY 24 meeting will take place at Swift Community Center, which has a capacity of 253. The council decided to hold the meeting there rather than the much larger capacity auditorium at East Greenwich High School because Swift has air conditioning and public safety officials said the logistics there were more favorable.

“I met with the police chief and he provided us with ideas for an operations plan,” said Chief of Staff Michaela Antunes. “He recommended the meeting be held at Swift Gym because of the layout of the building. Also, because of the air conditioning and bathrooms. The last thing we want is someone falling ill.”

“I requested the largest space available,” said Town Council President Sue Cienki late Friday. “The public safety officers in town have indicated, besides renovations, the high school has no air conditioning. We are in the midst of a heat wave and they feel it is not safe to have a meeting in that space. They are afraid people would pass out. The largest space is Swift gym.”

Temperatures at the time of the agenda was posted late last week were in the low 90s, but the forecast for Monday showed a significant drop in the temperature. On Saturday, the final day to post an agenda for the meeting (agendas need to posted 48 hours in advance and need to include the site of the meeting and any alternate venues), the forecast for Monday was a high of 72 degrees.

The EGHS auditorium does not have air conditioning but can hold more than 700 people and was the site for Financial Town Meetings that were, until voters approved abolishing the FTM last November, held each year in June. The auditorium is also used throughout the summer by the New Life Church (which rents the space).

The joint session with the School Committee will focus on a memorandum of agreement (MOA – you can find it through the agenda link posted below) between the two elected bodies over the Town Council’s decision to take over financial responsibility for certain noneducational expenses, mainly salaries.

This decision by the Town Council, known as the “One Town” plan, assumed consolidation of those positions – finance, personnel, IT.

School Committee members thought an MOA would be negotiated and signed before any consolidation actions were taken. Acting Town Manager Gayle Corrigan, however, fired her assistant, the town finance director and the town human resources director, simultaneously hiring an outside chief of staff and naming two school department employees as joint school-town employees on June 30. This happened with the consent of the Town Council (in a 3-1 vote June 26) but without any formal discussion with or by the School Committee.

After the School Committee voiced its concern, citing potential legal problems with the unilateral action, the town hit the pause button with regard to the two school department employees Corrigan had pegged for consolidated positions. The MOA to be discussed Monday lays out the new financial responsibilities – the town is taking on around $528,000 of the school department’s salaries – but it does not include job descriptions of the new, consolidated positions.

Certain items from the July 10 agenda that are not on Monday’s agenda are a vote to add a “Fire Department” chapter to the Town Charter and restructuring of the Municipal Court. Corrigan already took action last week to shift moving traffic violations to the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal (see story posted July 18). However, Municipal Court Judge David Bazar will give a report to the council. It is his contention that the shift should only be temporary because the revenues are greater than the costs of running the court, even with new software expenses.

Councilman Mark Schwager said he was also interested in the agenda item “review of Town Council rules and guidelines” (which comes up on the agenda every six months) in light of recent emails and statements attributed to the entire Town Council.

“I was very surprised to see the message posted and emailed after the July 10 meeting,” Schwager said Saturday. It was signed by the Town Council but Schwager said the panel did not discuss any statement that would be released to the public much less vote on it.

“I felt that message was not just information. In my reading of that release, it had a certain editorial content to it that I didn’t agree with and wasn’t aware of before it was released,” he said. “We need to clarify how things are sent out. My impression is, anything that is sent out to the press or the public should be reviewed by the entire council and discussed.”

The statement sent out June 15 after former Town Manager Tom Coyle’s “separation” from the town and the hiring of Corrigan to serve as acting town manager was voted on by the council, Schwager said. He voted against it (the vote was 3-1), but he said, “that process worked.”

The meeting Monday starts at 7 p.m. There will be a signup sheet for those wanting to make a public comment. The council is limiting each commenter to two minutes.

Here is a link to the agenda and some supporting documents: https://eastgreenwichri.novusagenda.com/a…/MeetingView.aspx…

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

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