Town Council Outtakes: Manager Search Update, Bond Debt, Feisty Public Comment

The Town Council met at Town Hall for the first time in months Monday. The room was full, but seats remained in the balcony.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

At last Monday’s Town Council meeting, Councilman Nino Granatiero said round one interviews for town manager will be held in mid-April. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan has a contract through June 30; Granatiero and others have declined to say whether or not Corrigan is a candidate for the permanent position.

In an earlier interview, Granatiero said each Town Councilor had reviewed the 60-plus applications received for the position and submitted their top picks to Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, a process that winnowed the list to 12 candidates. Those applications were given to the six-person Town Manager Search Advisory Committee. That panel has decided to interview five candidates.

The Town Council will interview round two candidates.

Also at the meeting Monday, Finance Director Linda Dykeman gave an overview of the town’s bond debt – the money borrowed over the years to pay for such things as the new Cole Middle School, the police station, a renovation of Swift Gym into Swift Community Center, among other capital projects (East Greenwich Bond Overview March 2018).

That debt is double the state average. The majority of the debt is school debt, which is reimbursed 35 percent by the state Department of Education. The town’s bond rating – AA – remains strong. 

“We’re in debt double the rest of the state of Rhode Island,” said Council Vice President Sean Todd. “That’s not good.”

A lot of money was put into the town – it wasn’t frivolous spending,” countered Councilman Mark Schwager.

Dykeman said the debt repayment would decrease over time, much as a house mortgage does, as long as the town doesn’t approve additional bonds. That is unlikely; already on the plate this year is a request for a new Public Works garage to replace the facility built more than 50 years ago.

During public comment, Robert Vespia questioned the inclusion of a nonresident on the Town Manager Search Advisory Committee. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of Vespia’s comment and response from the Town Council:

Robert Vespia:

The ad hoc committee for the town manager advisory board has six members…. All the other committees have odd numbers in case there’s a tie vote. Why does the board have an even number? Also, a member of the committee is not a resident of the town. Per the charter – I just happen to have the section here … ‘No person shall be appointed to any board, commission or committee of the town unless he or she is a qualified elector of the town and a resident actually living in the town except as otherwise provided in the state law and by this charter. At the point when any member ceases to meet such qualification, the position shall become vacant.’ My understanding is there’s a member of the ad hoc committee that is not a resident of the town….

Council President Sue Cienki:

It is not really a board …

Councilman Andy Deutsch:

So, Rob, your issue is with Steve Lombardi, who’s the director of the Chamber of Commerce and dedicates –

RV:

my concern –

AD:

Let me finish my question. Your issue is with Steve Lombardi, who lives and breathes East Greenwich. He works tirelessly at the Chamber of Commerce, is probably the most impartial person, is very smart, has his finger on the pulse of the business community and the town. … You feel like Steve Lombardi is not a good option for the advisory board, yes or no?

RV:

My concern is with the Town Council following the charter not only when they find it convenient, but all the time.

AD:

‘Find it convenient.’ So, what would you like us to do?

RV:

Follow the charter.

AD:

You want Steve off the board, is that what you’re saying?

RV:

Follow the charter.

AD:

What would you like us to do with this particular situation, Mr. Vespia?

RV:

Follow the charter.

AD:

I hear you again and again. What would you like us to do about Mr. Lombardi?

RV:

Whatever’s necessary to follow the charter. How much clearer can I be? Follow the charter.

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan:

Can I clarify the charter with the solicitor, because it does move into the opioid task force. This is a ad hoc advisory committee. I know that Bob Houghtaling’s has, not a resident –

AD:

Should we take Bob Houghtaling off the task force to ‘follow the charter’?

GC:

Not only that, but he suggested many people who are not residents to be on the –

RV:

Is Bob an employee of the town? So he can be an ex-officio of the committee.

AD:

So Dave [D’Agostino, town solicitor], what are we violating? Tell us.

GC:

Dave, Bob has at least five or six people he would like on this task force, including local clergy, a lot of local people that can really help… I just need to know. I need to let Bob know before he gets too in-depth here.

David D’Agostino:

The view of this council as to these advisory or ad hoc groups I think is consistent, consistent with the opioid task force and whoever Bob Houghtaling wants to have on there and it would be the same with this board.

RV:

The only thing I know is the charter says any board, commission or committee. That’s what the charter says. You people throw the charter at us. We had to have a meeting at 8:30 on a Saturday morning because that’s what the charter said we had to do. You’re picking and choosing.

Councilman Nino Granatiero:

Let me jump in here for a second. We’re doing a lot of work on this town manager search. We’re asking people to take their personal time. Let’s make 100 percent certain that what he is saying is not correct or is correct and let’s go with it. Because I am not going to sit here and ask these really smart people Robert that are donating their time to make a good search, I’m not going to ask them to waste their time unless we can absolutely use it.

DD:

I’ll provide the council with a legal opinion and I’ll also address the opioid task force.

In another exchange, EG firefighter Tom Bailey spoke out about what he said were pressing safety concerns. Bailey is the safety officer for the fire department.

Tom Bailey: In the past, when we’ve had major storms there have been community center open for people to go to. The last two storms I’ve had multiple calls, people with medical conditions, people with no power in horrible situations with nowhere to go…. I had no answer. Nothing to tell them. We have a storm coming in tomorrow. What’s your plan? What’s your plan?

Councilman Nino Granatiero:

Stop with the pointing of the fingers –

TB:

The people need to know. Public safety has been put at risk long enough.

NG:

I’m just asking you to stop pointing the fingers … You’re saying it was closed the last two times. Is this the first time you’re bringing this to anyone’s attention?

TB:

I shouldn’t have to.

NG:

I’m asking a question: Is the is the first time you’re bringing this to someone’s attention?

TB:

Who am I going to talk to when the chief of the department is away over the weekend?

NG:

What I’m hearing is a finger-pointing guy who’s got a ‘gotcha’ situation, is that what I’m hearing?

TB:

No. No gotcha.

NG:

So you’re point is…

TB:

I can walk you through scenario after scenario. I’ve been at fires when Tom Coyle’s come out at 3 o’clock in the morning to check on the residents and us.

NG:

Tom Coyle’s not here. Russ McGillivray’s not here. Let’s move past all of this stuff. What is your point? That the community center should be open for people in this town, is that it?

TB:

My point is the safety in this town is being totally disregarded. We now have a chief who’s gone for multiple days.

Councilman Andy Deutsch:

So Chief McGillivray worked seven days straight? Your previous chief worked seven days straight?

TB:

No. We had a deputy chief and a chief. And there was a full chain of command that took place. Currently we’re working in a situation where – and it’s not his fault. I’ve talked to him and safety is utmost concern. It’s just the contract he’s working under. I in fact think he’s a really good guy. I think this decision that you guys are making – and I want it on public record – is going to cause a tragedy in this town unless you correct. Unless you correct. Time is running out. … You cannot predict when a storm is going to happen, when a fire is going to happen. You are flirting with disaster. And the outcome resulting will be on each of your shoulders, each of your shoulders. I am the safety officer of this town for the FD… I am here because I have waited patiently for change to come, for communication. We offered a deal to you; you walked away from it and planted it on us –

NG:

So this is more than the community center, is that it? Come on. Now you’re … enough.

Council President Sue Cienki:

We’re not going to get into contracts negotiations….

Another commenter, Gene Dumas, spoke about the March 2 storm, which downed two large pine trees on his Marion Street property. He was seeking to confirm how town departments communicate with each other in events like his and he wanted to thank town employees, especially those from public works, for their help. He and his elderly mother were without power for four days.

The Town Council also approved a reorganization of the Parks & Rec and Senior and Human Services departments. Read that story here. The panel meets next on Monday, March 26.

Police Log: Package Drop Fail; Head-Butt on Main Street; Keyed Car

By Bethany Hashway

Tuesday, Feb. 20

10:55 a.m. – A North Kingstown woman told police her car was keyed while her car was parked on Queen Street on Feb. 17. The woman told police that she had been involved in an incident with her ex-boyfriend and she thought he may have been involved with the vandalism to her car.

Wednesday, Feb. 21

11:22 a.m. – A Pequot Trail resident told police about an unwanted FedEx package she had received. The woman told police she hadn’t ordered anything from FedEx. The package was for another woman but had listed the home address to Pequot Trail. Police had reached out to the FedEx Fraud Department regarding the unwanted package and FedEx was able to track the package to AT&T in Fort Worth Texas. FedEx told police that they didn’t want the package back and if there were any fraud it would have to be reported by AT&T. The woman told police she had received a package a few days earlier addressed to the same person. She also told police that a woman driving a red station wagon had came to her door and told her she was the woman listed on the package and asked her for it. The Pequot Trail resident gave the woman the package. She didn’t think much of it until the third unwanted package came arrived. Inside the package was a new iPhone 7 Plus. Police took the package to check it out and they have found it to be purchased fraudulently and the woman’s address was being used for package drops.

5:25 p.m. – Police arrested a Providence man, 20, for driving on a suspended license after he was pulled over on Howland Road for driving without a front license plate and for having dark tinted windows. Checks on the license plate showed that the plates didn’t match the car – the man said his friend gave him the plate. Routine checks showed the man had a suspended license. Police gave him District Court summons for the suspended license as well as summons’s for driving an unregistered car, display of plates, and an unlawful installation of sunscreen material. Police seized the license plate and took his license.

Thursday, Feb. 22

11:46 p.m. – Someone at Main Street Coffee called police after an employee was allegedly assaulted by a customer. The employee told police he had been working as security by the front door but saw a man walk up to a table and make rude comments to the people at that table. The security guard told police he tried to step in but the man tried to head-butt him and a struggle ensued. The man left and went out to Main Street and headed northeast, crossing the street. Witnesses told police the man’s his ex-girlfriend among those he had harassed. The security guard was not injured. Police later found the man’s car unattended on Peirce Street but there was no sign of the man. Police drew up a warrant with charges of disorderly conduct and assault and battery.

Friday, Feb. 23

9:00 a.m. – The property manager for 235 Main St. called police after two newly installed parking lot signs were removed. The woman told police one of the signs was a No Parking, Tow Away Zone Sign, and the other read No Valet Parking in Driveway. The two parking signs with metal posts attached were pulled out of the ground and one was placed on the ground with the other sign leaning against a wall.

4:54 p.m. – Police arrested and East Greenwich man, 47, at his home at his home on a warrant out of EGPD for simple assault, domestic disorderly and disorderly charges. He was taken into custody and transported to EGPD for processing.

Saturday, Feb. 24

9:31 p.m. – Police arrested a Warwick man, 20, for street racing after he and another car were seen speeding on Post Road. The man was pulled over for speeding and a number of other moving violations. According to the report, both cars were doing 89 mph in a 35 mph zone. Routine checks were done and showed the man had an active license. He was taken into custody and transported to EGPD for processing. His car was towed. He was charged and issued a District Court summons for reckless driving, speeding and conditions requiring reduced speed/move over violation. He was released at 11 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 25

3:36 p.m. – Police arrested a North Kingstown woman, 40, on a bench warrant. Police had spotted her walking on Main Street. When police made contact with her they told her she had a warrant to which she told police she knew about. She was taken into custody and transported processed at EGPD, and then she was delivered to the ACI in Cranston.

4:11 p.m. – Police arrested a Coventry man, 35, for driving while intoxicated after police were called to 333 Main Street for a car accident. When police showed up they had found two vehicles that were broken down in the road. One vehicle was in the southbound lane and the other car was facing the north. While officers were speaking to the Coventry man, he appeared to be sleepy and his speech was mumbled. Police had asked him if he had anything to drink; he said no. He did tell police he was coming from work at Quidnessett Country Club in North Kingstown and he told police that he had left an hour ago. He also told police that he did not use any drugs today but is on medication He did tell police that he took 4 mg of Suboxone daily, which is prescribed, to him. After the man failed field sobriety tests, he was taken into custody and transported to EGPD for processing. He was issued a district court summons for driving under the influence and was issued a summons for leaving the lane of travel. He was released to a family member.

Monday, Feb. 26

1:24 a.m. – Police cited a Coventry man for driving a car with expired registration after he was pulled over on Route 4 for speeding. According to the report he was doing 89 mph in a 55 mph zone. The man told police he was speeding but thought he was only going 75 or 80 mph and he told police he knows his registration is expired and he hasn’t had the time to register his car. Routine checks showed the registration was expired. The car was towed from the scene and he was issued a summons for speeding.

Trash Can Fire at EGHS Slowed By Parent’s Use of Fire Extinguisher

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

For the second time in less than four days, the benefits of a handy fire extinguisher were on display – this time at East Greenwich High School, where an oily cloth in a plastic trash basket seems to have caught fire Saturday night in a area of the building that houses both a computer lab and the woodshop.

At the time, the auditorium was screening the movie “The Avengers” – a fundraiser for the high school’s sailing team. The smell of burnt plastic alerted moviegoers to an issue and someone called 911.

“It’s a good thing they were there,” Mears said of the moviegoers. “One of the parents was smart enough to take an extinguisher off the wall, and sprayed underneath the floor,” helping to put out the fire. The door to the classroom was locked. 

It wasn’t much of a fire but it could have been, Mears said.

Beyond the rank odor of burning plastic, the only real damage was the trash basket itself and a couple of floor tiles, Mears said.

The official cause of the fire has yet to be released but Mears said it appeared to have been a case of spontaneous combustion.

Cloths with petroleum-based products need to be aired out and dried completely before disposing of them. Mears said he hangs up oily cloths outside or over the side of an open trash can. Like the middle of a compost pile, an oil-soaked rag or bunch of rags in the bottom of a trash can or  bag will get hot but, because of the oil, the rags can burst into flame.


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Hot Tub Catches Fire After Wednesday Night Power Surge

Volunteers at the Fire Canteen truck hand Dana Gee a cup of hot coffee after the worst was over Wednesday night. Dana’s husband, Mark Gee, state senator, is on the right.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

It’s a good thing the Gee family stays up late, said Dana Gee Thursday. That’s because her son Griffin Gee, an 8th grader at Cole Middle School, was still up around 11 p.m. Wednesday when he smelled something funny. He looked out his bedroom window and saw flames coming from the hot tub that sits near the house in the backyard. Griffin notified Dana, who was in her office downstairs.

Dana’s other son, Zing, called 911 while Dana grabbed a fire extinguisher they keep at the back door, figured out how to use it (it wasn’t hard, she said) and set to work on the blaze. It just so happened they had two other fire extinguishers that they ended up using as well. Hope Gee, Griffin’s twin sister, opened the door for the firefighters when they arrived and corralled the family’s two dogs. It was a family affair.

“The kids were epic, as were the firemen,” said Dana. She said she was very grateful the family had the fire extinguishers.

“If I had not had the fire extinguishers, there is no question in my mind we would have lost part of our house,” she said. As for doing the dirty work – “I always wanted to be a firefighter,” she joked.

The Gees’ burnt hot tub.

Dana said apparently there had been a power surge somewhere on Cedar Avenue (the Gees live on Middle Road a little west of Cedar) around 10:30 p.m. Somehow that caused a short in their hot tub, which had not been used in  years. All of this took place during the second nor’easter in less than a week, which brought heavy, wet snow and wind.

Dana said she was very grateful, too, for the all-volunteer fire canteen, which shows up to provide food during fires around the state.

“They handed me a hot cup of coffee at around 12:30 a.m.!” she said.


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Corrigan: Firefighter Overtime ‘Will Destroy This Town’

Station One on Main Street.

Meanwhile, call volume has grown more than 100 percent in the 11 years since the number of firefighters was increased.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

East Greenwich, R.I. – At a special Planning Board meeting last Wednesday on 6-year capital budgets, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan said firefighter overtime was potentially ruinous for the town.

“If we don’t do something right now, we are going to have to put $1 million [for overtime] in the firefighter budget for 2019,” she said. “I can’t put $1 million in there. It will destroy this town.”

Corrigan put the blame for that overtime squarely on the firefighters’ current collective bargaining agreement, which does away with four “floater” positions over three years (one per platoon). Floaters – extra staff to cover shifts in case someone’s out on vacation, illness or injury – receive regular pay rather than the time-and-a-half overtime pay.

Of the Town Council’s decision to approve the contracts, Corrigan said, “I find no evidence that they knew what they were signing in 2013. They didn’t do the financial analysis in 2013; it got compounded in 2016.”

Corrigan was repeating the analysis of the former EG Fire District merger with the town that she gave to the Town Council Monday, Feb. 27. Pivoting to the current budget, she told the Planning Board raising taxes by full 4 percent tax increase for Fiscal Year 2019 would give the town an extra $2.25 million in property tax revenue based on this year’s budget, but that “$2.25 million just doesn’t buy you very much,” she said.

In an interview Friday, firefighter union President Bill Perry said the firefighters didn’t bargain for eliminating the floater – they bargained for additional staffing, because of increased call volume and increased mutual aid calls.

“We needed more manpower,” said Perry.

The call volume for East Greenwich grew from 1,806 calls in 2000 to 4,122 in 2017 (EGFD Run Volumes 2000-2017). Through March 3 this year, the EGFD responded to 769 calls. At that rate, they will have 4,500 calls for 2018, a 150 percent increase over 2000.

Since 2000, the number of firefighters has increased from 20 to 36, with all of the increase happening between 2001 and 2006 (8 alone were added in 2002, after a house fire on Peirce Street killed 2 residents). In 2006, the first year there were 36 firefighters, the EG Fire District fielded 2,386 service calls.

Among the reasons for the increased call volume include the addition of several medical office buildings on South County Trail since 2000 and New England Tech’s arrival on Division Street in 2010. NEIT’s new dorm (which opened in September and will hold 400 at capacity) is expected to have an impact going forward. Perry said there have been “dozens” of calls to the dorm since September, for everything from EMS to elevator emergencies to alarms.

Perry said the firefighters knew overtime costs would increase without floaters. Fire overtime was averaging in the $400,000 to $450,000 range until 2015.

“They could hire four floaters and you’d go back to around $400,000 in overtime,” he said, meaning in on top of the four floaters-turned-into permanent-staff in the 2016-19 contract. Additional staff, of course, means additional health care and pension costs.

But Corrigan and the Town Council want contract concessions now, as she explained to the Planning Board Wednesday.

“The town does have a complaint filed with [Superior Court] Judge McGuirl to change the work week now,” she said. The town filed that suit in December. In a letter to residents Dec. 20 Town Council President Sue Cienki said, “After many hours of negotiation with the Union, we thought we had reached a deal; a week or so later, we learned that the Union was unwilling to honor its commitments” (Cienki letter 12:20:17).

The two sides had, in fact, reached a tentative agreement – they shook hands on a deal to reverse the decision on the floaters, bringing them back. But the firefighters strongly disagree with Cienki’s assessment of what happened next.

“We worked out the deal to give them the floater back and they turned down the deal,” he said. “We didn’t even have to negotiate with them – we have a contract through 2019.”

After the handshake deal, town labor lawyer Tim Cavazza wrote up the agreement. Perry said the firefighters were still reviewing that document – “we wanted a couple of wording changes” – when the Town Council voted in executive session Dec. 18 to file suit looking for court permission to impose a 56-hour work week on the firefighters. (Right now, the firefighters work 42 hours a week.)


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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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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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What About Those Fire District Impact Fees Corrigan Cites for Audit Delay?

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

On Tuesday, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan posted a letter to the town website explaining that the town was seeking an extension from the state on its annual audit to March 31, three months after the audit was due.

[Update 2/20: The letter has been removed from the website but you can find it here: Corrigan Letter on Audit.]

Municipalities are required by state law to submit completed audits to the state Auditor General within six months of the close of the fiscal year or seek an extension. The East Greenwich fiscal year ends June 30, so its audit is due by Dec. 31.

“It’s not unusual for communities to request an extension … for all kinds of reasons,” said state Auditor General Dennis Hoyle earlier this week. “A not-uncommon reason would be changes in personnel and new people are hired and they’re getting up to speed.”

As it happens, East Greenwich got a new town manager and a new finance director the last two weeks in June, with no overlap from the previous administration, although Corrigan did not cite that as a reason for the need for an extension.

“This year seems to be we have a few more in the late category,” noted Hoyle. “We’re very closely monitoring all communities, including East Greenwich. . . . Extensions beyond February are rare but do occur. As it stands now, one other community has an extension to March 15. Another municipality, which has a different fiscal year end, is substantially late – more than nine months. When they are substantially and chronically late, we work with the communities to address the underlying issues that cause the untimely financial reporting.”

In Corrigan’s letter, she spoke of a variety of problems that predated her hire, including liabilities stemming from the former Fire District’s commercial impact fee collection.

From Corrigan’s letter:

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.

Some background: Before becoming part of the town, the EG Fire District was its own taxing authority. For anyone living in town in before June 2013, they were paying two separate property taxes for the privilege: one to the Town of East Greenwich and one to the East Greenwich Fire District. In 2012, voters of East Greenwich approved a Town Council-supported non-binding referendum in support of consolidating the town and the fire district.

The Town Council then took the results of that referendum to the General Assembly for formal approval. The Fire District’s council equivalent, the Fire District Commissioners, were largely against the idea but the General Assembly sided with the Town Council and the merger was on. With that merger, the town got all the assets of the district, as well as all the liabilities.

One asset soon became a liability.

In 2002, the Fire District passed a resolution imposing commercial impact fees on all new development, with the idea that it would generate money for a fund to be used for large purchases, such as a new fire truck.

For the next 11 years, the district collected those fees, totalling nearly $1 million. When the town took over the district, however, the Town Council decided to discontinue that commercial impact fee. At the time and still today, the town charges impact fees on residential but not commercial development. According to former Town Council President Michael Isaacs, “We never did because we felt it was more important to encourage businesses to come to East Greenwich and have them pay property taxes forever.”

But several developers took exception to the Fire District’s impact fees and filed suit in 2013, just as the district became part of the town. The town won in Superior Court but then the plaintiffs appealed to the state Supreme Court and, in 2016, they won.

The state Supreme Court ruled the fire district had not provided plaintiffs with either notice or an opportunity to be heard prior to adopting the impact fees (find the ruling here: Supreme Court:Fire District Impact Fee ruling). Back in 2002, the Fire District had imposed the impact fees by resolution not ordinance and the Supreme Court ruled that failure denied developers due process. In other words, in 2002, the Fire District passed a resolution during one meeting instead of having the three readings an ordinance requires, including a public hearing at the second reading, giving anyone more of a chance to weigh in.

(The plaintiffs in the case paid from $3,432 to $75,017 in impact fees but those were not the largest impact fee bills. The largest fee – $400,000 – was paid by Brook’s Pharmacy, which built the Division Road headquarters later bought by New England Tech.)

Peter Clarkin, town solicitor when the town took over the fire district, said the Town Council assumed the fire district’s impact fee policy had been enacted properly.

“We had not reason to think otherwise,” he said Wednesday.

Former Town Council President Michael Isaacs defended the decision to bring the fire district into the town and he took issue with Corrigan’s characterization in her letter.

“Obviously, I disagree with those statements,” Isaacs said Wednesday. “We did conduct an economic analysis and we did consider the economic implications of taking over the fire district.”

He pointed out that what played out in court on the impact fees would affect East Greenwich taxpayers regardless of whether or not the town had taken on the fire district.

“The same taxpayers would be on the hook either way,” he said.

“[The consolidation] was the right thing to do, from an overarching public policy point of view. It made no sense to have a separate taxing authority for the fire district,” said Isaacs. “The fire commissioners were elected at a meeting where the quorum was 30 people and the town councilors were elected in a town-wide election. And two-thirds of voters agreed with consolidation.”

Jeff Cianciolo, who served on the Town Council at the time and was a vocal proponent for the merger, declined to comment.

“I don’t want to get involved,” he said.

With regard to Corrigan’s statement that there’s no evidence the town conducted any kind of fiscal analysis or risk assessment, former Town Manager Bill Sequino said the council was aware of the fire district’s pension and OPEB (other post-employment benefits) liabilities.

“It was in the audit report and the actuarial report,” Sequino said. 

With those expenses, too, the taxpayers are liable regardless of whether or not there is a separate fire district or a town fire department.

One unknown is exactly how much the town will have to pay in returned impact fees. The ruling made it possible for developers outside of the original lawsuit to be reimbursed. Corrigan said in her letter the cost could “more than a million dollars.”

Under former Town Manager Tom Coyle, the town had reserved $400,000 in impact fees in case litigation went against the town.

How the fire impact fee litigation factors into the need for an extension on last year’s audit is unclear, but Councilman Nino Granatiero said Wednesday that Corrigan’s letter was accurate. However, he said, he was unable to talk about it now.

“If it’s appropriate to come out, it will at the right time,” he said.


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Town Paid $104,518 For Extra Legal Services Last Fall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Town of East Greenwich paid $104,518 to the law firm Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder and Siket for legal services through Nov. 30. This is in addition to the $11,500 a month ($135,000 annually) paid to Town Solicitor David D’Agostino. Tim Cavazza, a lawyer at Whelan, Corrente, has been working on labor-related issues for the town at least since Sept. 11, when he was seen entering the Town Council’s executive session after its regular meeting that night. However, the bill released by the town does not offer a start date. Nor does it include the cost per hour for services.

The invoice breaks down the $104,555 this way:

$72,547 for labor

$6,666 for grievances

$2,675 for injured on duty claims

$5,800 for school department matters

$16,830 for J. Perry litigation

It is unclear what is included in the $72,547 for labor services but certain town expenses not yet otherwise accounted for may be part of that number. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan presented a consultant, Michael Walker of Berkshire Advisors, at the Town Council’s Aug. 28 meeting. That consultant also did work for North Kingstown when Whelan, Corrente was representing that town on firefighter labor issues.

Additionally, private investigator Dennis Aiken was hired in September to interview former Fire Chief Russ McGillivray. Aiken, in his previous job with the FBI, worked with Cavazza colleague Robert Corrente in his previous job as U.S. Attorney.

On the $6,666 for grievances, according to EG firefighter union officials, Cavazza took part in one meeting over grievances before Nov. 30.

School officials said they did not know anything about the $5,800 line item for school department matters. Presumably, the town had the law firm researching school department issues.

It’s also unclear what the nearly $17,000 spent on James Perry litigation went toward. The town’s defense in that lawsuit – which was fast-tracked, taking less than two months in total – was conducted by Town Solicitor D’Agostino.

According to public records, the City of Providence paid Cavazza’s law firm $230 an hour for similar legal services (Providence Letter of Engagement). East Greenwich declined to provide a letter of engagement, saying it did not need to under Rhode Island law. Alternatively, the City of Providence did release the entire four-page letter with only a single redaction.

Providence also released more detailed Whelan, Corrente invoices (see sample here: Providence–Corrente, Whelan invoice). North Kingstown also released more detailed invoices (NK–Whelan, Corrente invoice).


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Police Identify Drivers In Division Street Fatal Crash

[This story has been revised since it originally posted.]

East Greenwich police identified the two drivers involved in the fatal car accident Sunday night on Division Street.

Cheryl Zola, 61, of Warwick, died in the crash. In a revised account from police released Tuesday, it was Zola who was driving the wrong way. Joseph Iannuccilli, 49, of North Providence, was driving in the eastbound lane when Zola hit him, according to police.

Zola died at Rhode Island Hospital.

Iannuccilli was taken to Kent Hospital and released.

The accident is still under investigation, according to EGPD Det. Lt. Jeremy A. Fague.