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.

11 Replies to “Corrigan to Limit Information Access to EG News”

  1. There are so many things wrong here, but Todd and Corrigan inadvertently sum up the big picture neatly in their quotes in this article.

    Sean Todd says he “stand[s] behind the town’s stance that [East Greenwich News’] access to information should be treated like any other citizen” — in Corrigan’s words, “limiting their responses to [EG News] to APRA requests.”

    Nothing sums up our current Town government’s attitude better than this. They believe that “any other citizen’s” access to information should be limited to “APRA requests” — in other words, only what the Town government is legally required to produce.

  2. WOW
    How ironic is it that Corrigan has the audacity to question the ethics of Ms. McNamara! This is the same Gayle Corrigan who appointed her business partner to the finance director position behind closed doors and is under investigation by the Ethics Commission. Fortunately the residents have someone who is reporting the real facts of how our town government is being run, or how poorly I should say.
    Maybe Ms. Corrigan should read the code of ethics that she sent a copy of, she could learn a thing or two.
    Liz, Keep up the good work!

  3. The Town Council is attempting to censor its employees through its new social media policy, restricting access to public information to a local news publication who has been diligently reporting their actions, and attempted to censor residents’ communication to the public – mine.

    On December 20, another resident and I met with Sue Cienki and Sean Todd (who invited Stuart Peterson to attend – a private wealth manager and unofficial financial advisor to members of the Town Council). The meeting lasted 4.5 hours. The purpose of the meeting was to attempt to clarify three numbers published by the town that have been discussed in social media ad nauseam, but have still not been clarified by the Town Council. (Actually, they did agree in their meeting to correct one erroneous number that was disseminated EIGHT months ago – yet that number remains uncorrected.)

    At the meeting, Sue Cienki said corrections to the mailer would be posted on the Town website, and that we could all meet again to discuss. After the meeting, the topic of social media came up, and we residents agreed to draft a joint statement for that purpose. Peterson, the Town Council’s de facto financial advisor, expressly said in an email that that statement would be from the three of us, and the two of them [Cienki and Todd] could address the issues separately. This is well-documented.

    It became clear that we’d reached an impasse when Peterson wrote to us, “Also don’t forget to have the summary reviewed and approved by Sean and Sue as we agreed.” We never agreed, nor would we. I had suggested sending it to them as a courtesy, possibly for review. After Peterson continued to stall the process, we ended up sending Cienki, Todd, and him the final version as a courtesy. This is also well-documented.

    After we sent them the final version of our statement, Todd sent us three emails asking us to incorporate their views into our statement. In his first email, he suggested we three residents sit in a room together until we agreed, because the statement “does not provide facts presented from the conservative standpoint.” We declined. One unproductive 4.5 hour meeting was enough. (The statement is available at: http://6qsvt3wb3z42m9dpl1rx2521.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Dec.-20-2017-meeting-statement.pdf)

    The Town Council controls their public meetings, and the Town website – both of which have been used to disseminate erroneous information. Apparently that is not enough for them. They now feel the need to censor all of us. WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO HIDE?

    Sean Todd attacked Elizabeth McNamara’s integrity because she shared information with another resident and failed to disclose Bob Houghtaling’s relationship to EG News. In the interest of integrity and disclosure, I challenge the Town Council to disclose their relationship with Stuart Peterson. They should identify all meetings Peterson was invited to and attended by town officials, to which other residents were not invited.

    I further challenge every resident of East Greenwich to speak up. At the start of every Town Council meeting, the councilors and all in attendance pledge their allegiance to our flag. Censorship is NOT an American value.

    Anne Musella

  4. In the last TC meeting 1) they contradicted themselves when asked where the employee social media policy came from 2) Ms. Corrigan stated that the line item in the budget for legal items was for labor and arbitration directly contradicting what she said in the previous meeting that it was for planning and zoning matters. 3) Ms. Cienki stated that the newly adopted employee social media policy did not extend to off-work hours when it is clearly written that it does. 4) Ms. Cienki denied that the 51% tax levy was incorrect when she’s heard stating in the recording that it is incorrect and a correction will be printed.

    That’s just in one meeting and those are what I can recall off the top of my head. The fact is whatever they may think of EGNews, the town council/manager have not been able to stem the tide of lying or misstatements. If this govt was so honest and true, I’d like to believe that they’d welcome any chance to prove their point. And requesting any townsperson to APRA information that you could receive so easily in the past doesn’t look positive. Perhaps this is how they did it in Russia?

  5. Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Venezuela, East Greenwich. Hotbeds of light, truth and democracy.

  6. Hopefully you will continue to give Corrigan and Todd the coverage they so richly deserve, now without the courtesy of asking them for comment.

    Keep up the good work!

  7. One would guess that the contradictory statements, false financial information, CYA by D’Agostino, Ceinki, Todd, and of course Corrigan are finally tightening the noose on this immoral and possibly corrupt regime. This administration and council is like a festering zit getting ready to pop! What’s next for these people? Hold Town Council meetings behind closed doors with no public allowed or video? East Greenwich deserves better! Judge McGuirl and Steve Brown must be shaking their heads in disbelief at how stupid their actions are. Did they watch a show about Stalin and now try to emulate his regime? Thank God their reign of terror will end in November. Then the job of rebuilding our town will begin.

  8. I’m not surprised by Mrs. Corrigan actions, she previously showed extremely poor judgement. Also I’m not surprised by Mr. Todd’s response that is always contradictory, childish and with poor rationale behind. Lastly, I’m not surprised by the complicit silence of Mrs. Cienki, Mr. Granatiero and Mr. Deutsch.
    But I am surprised by the dictatorship model the town manager and most of the town counselors are using to deal with the press. Basically, their rationale is “I don’t like what you are saying so we won’t allow you to get the information”, “you are lying”…I think we’ve heard this many times in places that are not exactly cornerstones of democracy models like Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba, Russia, Syria, etc, etc. It’s good to know that we have several apprentices of Nicolas Maduro here in EG. Maybe you would like to change the name of EG to “Republica Bolivariana of East Greenwich” or better “Corrigarian (or Cienkian) Republic of East Greenwich”.
    Dear TM and most of TCs, act professionally and respect the work of the press!!!!

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