By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The state Ethics Commission Tuesday ruled in a 6-0 vote it found probable cause that Town Manager Gayle Corrigan broke the law when she hired her business associate Linda Dykeman to serve as finance director for the town in June 2017 and continued to supervisor her.
The two findings from the report:
- I) By recommending that the East Greenwich Town Council approve the appointment of her business associate, Linda Dykeman , as the consolidated Town Finance Director, and appointing her to said position, the Respondent violated R.I. Gen. Laws§ 36-14-S(a) & (d).
2) By supervising and directing her business associate, Linda Dykeman, in her employment as the consolidated Town Finance Director, the Respondent violated R.I. Gen. Laws§ 36-14-S(a).
The case now moves to a hearing before a judge. You can find the report here: Corrigan Investigative Report.
The issue hinged on the manner in which a finance director is hired by the town and a complaint made in late 2017.
By Town Charter, the town manager hires administrators with the approval of the Town Council. Town Council President Sue Cienki has argued that the council wanted to hire Dykeman. In an interview with an Ethics Commission investigator, Cienki said she and the council had been impressed with Dykeman during her time as a consultant for the town.
In spring 2017, Corrigan and Dykeman (operating as Providence Analytics) were hired by the town to complete budget analyses of first the school district and then the town. They presented their analysis at a meeting June 5, 2017, in which they also unveiled the so-called “One Town” consolidation of some town and school expenses. Two weeks later, on June 19, former Town Manager Tom Coyle “separated” from the town and the Town Council appointed Corrigan to serve as acting town manager. (In October, Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl ruled against the town in that hiring, rendering it “null and void” because it was not properly noticed and was done in secret. The council reappointed Corrigan in November.)
Cienki told the ethics investigator she reached out to Dykeman personally and put the “hard sell” on her to become the new finance director and had “twisted her arm a lot” to take the job. While conceding that Corrigan could have hired someone else in the position, Cienki, according to the ethics report, “was certain that no one would have voted to approve someone else.”
But in testimony in the trial before Judge McGuirl (over the firing of firefighter James Perry and several accusations of Open Meetings Act violations), Corrigan said she had recommended Dykeman’s appointment and salary to the council.
“She further testified that she provided an analysis and plan of restructuring for One Town to the Council, which included the recommendation that Ms. Dykeman be hired. She explained that the Council voted to approve the overall plan at the June 26, 2017 Council meeting,” the report stated.
Corrigan was the sole proprietor of Providence Analytics (the fictitious name of her company MRP); Dykeman was an employee and consultant for the company. In February 2017, Corrigan, Dykeman and a third person established the jointly-owned Lozen Associates. Corrigan told the Ethics Commission she left Lozen last October.
The report said Corrigan never requested a review of the Dykeman hire by the Ethics Commission, and that Corrigan continued “to exercise direct supervision and control over her business associate [Dykeman] for a period in excess of nine (9) months, all while Ms. Dykeman continued to receive regular compensation from [Corrigan’s] business, MRP.”
In an email Tuesday, Cienki said she was disappointed in the Ethics Commission’s decision.
“The hiring process for the Town’s Finance Director was transparent and we feel that this issue has been vetted in various forums,” she said.
Cienki added that the finding was “based solely on the information that at this time has not been challenged by Town Manager Corrigan – it is nothing more than a one-sided finding at this time. All exculpatory and mitigating information will be presented at a hearing, which will in fact prove no knowing or willful violation of the code.”
However, according to the Ethics Commission report, Corrigan filed two response to the complaint.
The report states lawyers from Whelan, Corrente (the outside law firm hired to handle firefighter labor issues) filed as representatives for Corrigan in February and that Corrigan filed a “verified answer” to the complaint on March 9, and filed an amended answer on May 18. According to legal bills from Whelan, Corrente through May, the town has been billed $62,000 for “ethics” work. (The town has not yet released more recent Whelan, Corrente legal bills.)
Cienki said the council “expects Town Manager Corrigan, presenting her case before the Commission, to show that these alleged violations were neither knowing nor willful.”
Cienki, a Republican, is running for re-election.
The ethics complaint was brought by Bill Higgins, who is running for Town Council as an independent.
In a written statement (find it here: Higgins statement on Ethics Commision Probable Cause Finding), Higgins said he had asked about the ethics and legality of Dykeman’s appointment in July, shortly after it was made, but was rebuffed. He said he decided to file the report after Corrigan’s testimony before Judge McGuirl in which she said she’d recommended Dykeman for the finance job.
“This all happened under this council’s watch. How was this issue ignored? The only person to raise a concern from the council was Dr. Schwager and he too was ignored…. This big city style politics and cronyism needs to stop and the residents and employees of this town deserve better,” he said.
Town Councilman Mark Schwager issued a statement calling on Corrigan to step down until the ethics matter is resolved. (Find his statement here: Schwager on Probable Cause Finding.)
“These ethics complaints, as well as an additional complaint that is still in process before the ethics commission, were known to the Town Council before the manager was re-hired in July,” he said. “I believe the Council did not properly consider these complaints during the hiring process. I hope that now, given the findings of the Ethics Commission, my colleagues on the Council will support my request for the appointment of an acting town manager until the Ethics Commission can complete its work.”
Schwager, a Democrat, is also running for re-election.
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