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.