After both lawyers were done questioning Town Manager Gayle Corrigan – whose decision to dismiss firefighter James Perry is at the heart of Firefighters Local 2238 versus the Town of East Greenwich – Judge Susan E. McGuirl had many questions of her own for Corrigan Friday.

Corrigan had testified earlier in the day about following best practices in her role as town manager.

“Do you believe it’s best practice to email someone at 10:15 [at night] to fire him?” asked McGuirl.

“That’s just when I got to it,” Corrigan responded.

Corrigan fired Perry Aug. 19 via an email to his brother, Bill Perry, the union president. She said he had lied on his resume, specifically because he listed Firefighter 1 and 2 certifications when he didn’t actually have Firefighter 1 and 2 paper certificates. As had been reiterated several times over the five days of the trial, training for firefighters in Rhode Island has historically been done in-house and often without awarding paper certificates. That is changing, but Perry was first hired as a firefighter in Coventry in 1989 and went full-time in 1999. Having a certificate was not required by the fire department.

McGuirl also questioned Corrigan’s due diligence, a term she used to describe her decision to fire Perry.

“Tell me again that means,” said McGuirl.

Corrigan explained that she’d looked at Perry’s job file and tried to get a copy of his certifications from the state fire academy. She had testified earlier that she’d asked for help from EG Fire Chief Russell McGillivray but he did not produce any certifications before going out on medical leave.

McGuirl asked, “Is this all you did? … You thought it was inappropriate to talk to Mr. Perry?”

“Yes,” said Corrigan, citing privacy concerns. Perry had been injured on the job and was out of work on Saturday, Aug. 19, the night he was fired.

“Did you talk to the union?”

“No,” said Corrigan.

“Did you talk to the chief?”

“At that point, I’d lost confidence in the chief,” Corrigan said.

“Did you talk to the former town manager?”

“No. It was not appropriate,” said Corrigan.

“Did you speak to anyone at Coventry Fire District?”

“No,” said Corrigan.

Did you speak with any firefighter in the interview process?”

“No,” said Corrigan.

“Prior to termination, was firefighter Perry given an opportunity to try to verify his training?”

“No,” said Corrigan.

“You made a decision based on the record you had in front of you,” McGuirl said. “That is still your position, that he intentionally misrepresented?”

“Yes,” said Corrigan.

McGuirl also questioned Corrigan’s management practices.

Corrigan testified Thursday that she was able to fire Perry without the charter-required recommendation of the fire chief because, at the time, she held the administrative duties of fire chief.

Earlier on Aug. 19, the day Perry was fired, the Town Council had named Capt. Thomas Mears acting fire chief, but had added the words “for operations” in the motion. According to Corrigan, that meant Mears only had the operational responsibilities not the administrative duties of chief.

“The charter doesn’t limit the acting fire chief’s responsibilities,” McGuirl told Corrigan Friday, referring to the EG Town Charter. “Did you ever have a look at that section of the charter?”

Corrigan said Mears couldn’t hold administrative duties of fire chief because he was in the union.

McGuirl also asked Corrigan about the meaning of “certified” and “certification.”

“I believe they mean verifiable,” said Corrigan.

“You were aware that some firefighters did not get certificates?” said McGuirl.

“I’m not disputing that they were trained,” said Corrigan, “but that piece of paper means something. I’m disputing the “certification” word.

McGuirl asked Corrigan which of EG’s 36 firefighters had paper certificates. Beyond Perry, the five additional lateral transfers and two EG firefighters, Corrigan said she didn’t know their status. She said she also didn’t know the status of all the firefighters in Central Coventry Fire District, where she continues to serve as district manager, nor did she know the certificate-no certificate breakdown in Central Falls – which she helped manage through bankruptcy.

Town Solicitor David D’Agostino asked Corrigan a few more questions after the judge was finished.

“Are you able to verify that Mr. Perry has Firefighter 1 and 2 NFP 1001-1002 certification?” he asked.

“No, I cannot,” replied Corrigan.

D’Agostino then referred to the firefighters’ contract (CBA), citing that an employee may be dismissed for just cause after careful and factual consideration.

“Do you believe Mr. Perry was fired for just cause?”

“Yes,” said Corrigan.

“Do you believe it was done after careful and factual consideration?”

“Yes,” said Corrigan.

By the end of Friday, testimony for both sides ended, McGuirl told D’Agostino and union lawyer Elizabeth Wiens to submit post-trial briefs.

“I want them quickly,” the judge said. “It’s a matter of some urgency.”

Closing arguments will be heard Oct. 3.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

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