Town Manager Gayle Corrigan upped the ante in her battle with the East Greenwich Fire Department Thursday by calling for a special Town Council meeting Saturday morning (8/19) to appoint an “interim fire chief.” Fire Chief Russell McGillivray went out on a two-week medical leave starting Aug. 16.
The action is unusual.
Chief McGillivray took a weeklong vacation in early August and no such action was taken. Rather, as has been department practice, McGillivray deputized Captain Thomas Mears, a 20-year veteran, to lead the department in his absence. According to fire department sources, McGillivray did so again before this leave.
McGillivray chose the senior captain because there has been no deputy chief since Michael Sullivan retired from that position June 30. Corrigan decided to keep that position empty to save money to cover higher than budgeted overtime costs.
It happens that the appointment of an interim chief coincides with the end of a 12-month probation for six new firefighters on Tuesday (8/22). Two of the probationary firefighters came to the department from Central Coventry Fire District, including including David Gorman, an EG native who had been head of the Central Coventry firefighters union. Corrigan remains district manager/acting clerk of the Central Coventry Fire District.
Unless recommended by the fire chief, the town manager cannot terminate a probationary employee.
Cienki said she doesn’t know who Corrigan is planning to appoint.
Some close to the fire department have suggested Corrigan is planning to appoint former Fire Chief Peter Henrikson of EG, who departed the post after signing a separation agreement with the town in 2014.
If that’s the case, it would be a fire department family reunion of sorts, since Peter Henrikson’s wife, Kristen, was recently rehired to the job of fire clerk after having signed her own separation agreement in which she received a $86,000 payout, $73,000 beyond the vacation pay she was entitled to as per her contract.
East Greenwich News requested a copy of Peter Henrikson’s separation agreement Aug. 17. The town has two weeks to produce it under the Access to Public Records law. It refused an earlier APRA request to produce Kristen Henrikson’s separation agreement, despite this clause in the APRA law: “Settlement agreements of any legal claims against a governmental entity shall be deemed public records.”
Corrigan singled out the Fire Department for budget excesses and hiring practices at her first review of town finances on June 5, while still a consultant for the town. She has since targeted Fire Department overtime budget excesses as a cause for alarm.
According to firefighter union President Bill Perry, two weeks ago Town Solicitor David D’Agostino asked if the union would consider talking about opening the firefighters’ contract with the town. The contract is not up for renewal until 2019. Perry said he told D’Agostino he would be willing to sit down with him to talk about opening the contract but that D’Agostino had not responded.
Council President Cienki also honed in on the EGFD in an email to residents Thursday, in which she highlighted the Fire Department as “unique among all town departments in that it overspends its budget every year.”
As for Saturday’s meeting, Cienki was nonchalant: “It’s nothing big. We need a chief.”
The public meeting will be held at Town Hall at 8:45 a.m. Here’s the agenda.
– Elizabeth F. McNamara