Firefighter union president Bill Perry talks with former interim Fire Chief Olsen last November.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Former Fire Chief Peter Henrikson filed the complaint against Lt. Bill Perry, saying he and his brother should not work in same platoon.

The state Ethics Commission is investigating a complaint filed against firefighter union president Bill Perry – a lieutenant – that accuses him of conflicts of interest because his brother, a firefighter – was placed in the same platoon.

In its “Notice of Determination,” the Ethics Commission writes, “the … complaint alleges facts sufficient to constitute a violation of the provisions of the Rhode Island Code of Ethics.”

On its website, the Ethics Commission describes such an “initial determination to investigate” this way:

The decision to investigate does not address the validity of the complaint; rather, it merely indicates that the allegations properly fall under the provisions of the Code of Ethics. Neither the complainant nor the respondent participates in the initial determination.

Peter Henrikson, who served as EGFD chief from 2010 to 2013, filed the complaint (Perry Complaint).

In the complaint, Henrikson cites an Ethics Commission opinion from 2016, in response to  Perry’s request for a ruling on his brother James Perry’s application for a job with the East Greenwich Fire Department. In that application, then-Fire Chief Russell McGillivray said it was “very unlikely” that James Perry would be assigned to Bill Perry’s platoon because of Bill Perry’s position of authority over his brother.

James Perry did end up in Bill Perry’s platoon, Platoon B. However, Bill Perry works on Engine 1 at Station One (on Main Street) and James Perry works on Rescue 2 at Station Two (on Frenchtown Road) and James Perry is supervised by two other firefighters, a lieutenant and a captain.

Bill Perry’s lawyer, Elizabeth Wiens, said there would only be a conflict if Bill was in charge of evaluating his brother. He is not, she said.

Another accusation in Henrikson’s complaint is that Bill and James Perry are eligible for additional overtime because Platoon B recently lost its floater position due to a change in the contract.

That, however, would be impossible, since the overtime due to the loss of the floater would be available only when members of Platoon B are working. Members of that platoon would be the only firefighters not able to work overtime then since they would already be working that shift.

Henrikson’s complaint also addresses fill-in procedures – suggesting that Perry could have a hand in helping his brother get overtime spots. According to firefighters, overtime slots are filled off a list – the first name on the list gets the call, and so on; they are not determined by the ranking officer. Henrikson included a copy of EGFD fill-in procedures and other documents that are not public. He did not respond to a request about how he possessed those documents.

Henrikson has been advising Town Manager Gayle Corrigan in her efforts to restructure the fire department and he has met with both interim fire chiefs. His complaint was notarized by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino. His wife, Kristen, works as clerk for the fire department. Henrikson retired from the department just as it went from a separate fire district to merging into a town department.

Two months before Henrikson retired, the firefighters union – headed by Perry – passed a vote of no confidence in Henrikson as chief by a margin of 36-1.

Perry has 20 days from March 27 to respond to the complaint, although technically he has yet to receive the “notice of determination” that was sent to him via certified mail on that date. His lawyer has since obtained a copy from the commission via email. 

Henrikson had given Station One as Perry’s address but all EGFD mail goes to Town Hall. Perry only learned of the complaint after a resident tweeted about it Saturday. Town officials gave Perry the original complaint on Tuesday, 19 days after it had been sent by certified mail. The commission’s letter of determination was sent by certified mail on March 27; Perry has not yet received it from the town. 

In a letter to Town Solicitor D’Agostino (Wiens to D’Agostino 4/2/18), Perry lawyer Wiens outlined her objections to the town’s failure to deliver Perry’s mail in a timely fashion and questioned Henrikson’s access to town documents. She called Henrikson’s complaint the act of a “disgruntled former chief.”



 

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