Corrigan Argues for 56-Hour Work Week; Interim Chief Says He’s ‘Not a Fan’

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan presents her report to the Town Council April 9, 2018.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Interim Fire Chief Kevin Robinson said during the Town Council meeting – after being asked by a resident during public comment – that he was “not a fan” of the 24-hour shifts required under Town Manager Gayle Corrigan’s proposed restructuring plan.

Corrigan presented her plan of action to reduce fire department overtime expenses to the Town Council Monday night, arguing that changing the shift structure from 4 platoons to 3 could allow the department to go from 36 to 30 employees while building in staff to cover for illness or injury.

That 56-hour work week plan is even now before Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl. The town sued the firefighters in December asking that the court make a declaration that the town has the right to change the structure of the department unilaterally (i.e. without negotiating the change with the firefighters union).

Corrigan wants the council to approve the 56-hour work week but put it on hold until after McGuirl issues a ruling. A hearing is set on the town’s suit Monday, April 23.

Councilman Mark Schwager asked what to expect at that hearing.

Town Solicitor David D’Agostino said the town has asked Judge McGuirl to make a “judgment on the pleadings” – in other words, make a decision using just what is in front of her, with no additional discovery and no addition testimony. The judge could rule on April 23, he said, or she could ask for additional evidence.

“I don’t know if the court is going to be prepared to rule at that time,” D’Agostino said.

Under Corrigan’s proposed three-platoon system, firefighters would work 24 hours on, 48 hours off. The plan calls for 30 firefighters – 8 plus 2 floaters per shift – down from the current 36 firefighters. She recommends laying off the extra 6 firefighters based on seniority. In a four-platoon system, firefighters typically work 10 hours on, 14 hours off, 10 hours on, 24 hours off, 14 hours on, 96 hours off.

She argued that with seven firefighters on “injured on duty” status, it’s like the fire department is already working with only three platoons and she called the proposed reorganization even more of a safety issue than a fiscal one.

After admitting he was not a fan of 24-hour shifts, Chief Robinson said the important thing was to cut down on the number of hours firefighters were working, regardless of the shift structure. In his budget for fiscal year 2019, Robinson has a $1.2 million line item for overtime. Three quarters of a year into fiscal year 2018, $573,000 has been spent on EGFD overtime. Finance Director Linda Dykeman projects the final number to be just under $800,000. Meanwhile, the number of firefighters has remained constant at 36 since 2006, while calls have gone up nearly a third.

Corrigan also outlined possible changes in fire service delivery in the event Judge McGuirl rules against the town, including allowing the chief reduce the number of firefighters on duty overnight, making the department a volunteer service or privatizing the emergency medical rescue service.

Corrigan said she will present a candidate to fill the deputy chief position on an interim basis at the Town Council meeting May 14. No vote on the plan was taken Monday night.

For more information about Corrigan’s presentation, see our earlier story. Watch the entire meeting here.




Former HR Director Sues Town Over Lost Job

Third Former Employee to File Suit For June 30th Action

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Sharon Kitchin, who served as the town’s director of human resources, filed suit against the town last week, citing wrongful termination. She is the third out of three employees who were fired by Town Manager Gayle Corrigan June 30 to sue.

This is the sixth lawsuit filed against the town since August. The town has also filed suit against the firefighters union.

In her complaint, Kitchin accuses the Town Council of violating the Open Meetings Act and the Town Charter, now-familiar accusations following the lawsuits filed by the two other former employees as well an earlier lawsuit already ruled upon by Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl in which she described the town’s failure to comply with the Open Meetings Act as “willful and knowing” and issued a fine. McGuirl also found the town violated the Town Charter but deferred to town residents of the town to handle that wrongdoing. (Find the complaint here: Kitchin v Town of EG.)

In addition to those charges, Kitchin accuses the town of failing to pay “comp time” back wages.

Corrigan fired Kitchin, former assistant to the town manager Pam Aveyard, and former Finance Director Kristen Benoit shortly after being appointed Town Manager June 30, in letters that told the employees they were being “separated” from the town for “budget restructuring and fiscal consolidations” called for under the so-called “One Town” consolidation plan Corrigan was implementing.

In her complaint, Kitchin notes that the Attorney General and Judge McGuirl have ruled that the Town Council’s hiring of Corrigan June 19 was illegal since it was done without proper notice and the vote was not taken in public. The complaint notes the Town Council again violated the Open Meetings Act, as found by both the AG’s office and McGuirl, when it discussed the June 26 the consolidation plan without notifying Kitchin that her job was being discussed, as was her right as a department head. Also, the council did not vote to approve the firing of Kitchin in public session.

The complaint notes Kitchin was not terminated because of a lack of funds since the HR position remains funded in the town’s current budget.

The complaint says the council violated the Town Charter by not discussing the “One Town” plan – which it characterized as “a major policy initiative with enormous potential impact on the public and governmental operations” – in open session.

Kitchin also argues the town failed to pay her for 10 hours of compensatory time she had earned by working beyond normal her normal workday.

Town Solicitor David D’Agostino said Wednesday via email that the town would issue a response by the end of the month.

In the meantime, I am not inclined to comment on pending litigation, other than to indicate that the matter (as with all claims against the Town) have been submitted to the Town’s insurer for appropriate action,” he said.

D’Agostino noted, however, that some of the actions cited in Kitchin’s complaint and found as violations by both Judge McGuirl and the Attorney General’s office were remedied Nov. 20, when the Town Council voted to re-appoint Corrigan and reaffirm decisions made by her, including the June 30th firings, during a properly noticed public meeting.

Judge McGuirl ruled earlier this week that the town owed $41,905 in legal fees to the lawyer representing the EG firefighters in the November lawsuit where the judge found in the firefighters’ favor on Open Meetings Act violations. The town also paid $104,000 in legal fees between August and November to the law firm Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder and Siket, in addition to the monthly $11,500 paid to D’Agostino.


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What About Those Fire District Impact Fees Corrigan Cites for Audit Delay?

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

On Tuesday, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan posted a letter to the town website explaining that the town was seeking an extension from the state on its annual audit to March 31, three months after the audit was due.

[Update 2/20: The letter has been removed from the website but you can find it here: Corrigan Letter on Audit.]

Municipalities are required by state law to submit completed audits to the state Auditor General within six months of the close of the fiscal year or seek an extension. The East Greenwich fiscal year ends June 30, so its audit is due by Dec. 31.

“It’s not unusual for communities to request an extension … for all kinds of reasons,” said state Auditor General Dennis Hoyle earlier this week. “A not-uncommon reason would be changes in personnel and new people are hired and they’re getting up to speed.”

As it happens, East Greenwich got a new town manager and a new finance director the last two weeks in June, with no overlap from the previous administration, although Corrigan did not cite that as a reason for the need for an extension.

“This year seems to be we have a few more in the late category,” noted Hoyle. “We’re very closely monitoring all communities, including East Greenwich. . . . Extensions beyond February are rare but do occur. As it stands now, one other community has an extension to March 15. Another municipality, which has a different fiscal year end, is substantially late – more than nine months. When they are substantially and chronically late, we work with the communities to address the underlying issues that cause the untimely financial reporting.”

In Corrigan’s letter, she spoke of a variety of problems that predated her hire, including liabilities stemming from the former Fire District’s commercial impact fee collection.

From Corrigan’s letter:

When the Town took over the former East Greenwich Fire District in 2013, it also took on potential liabilities for the district’s illegally-collected impact fees, which could ultimately cost the Town more than a million dollars. This information was not disclosed to the Town or its residents, as little due diligence was done at the time. There is no evidence that the Town conducted any fiscal analysis or risk assessment on the economic ramifications of taking over the former Fire District as a Town department.

Some background: Before becoming part of the town, the EG Fire District was its own taxing authority. For anyone living in town in before June 2013, they were paying two separate property taxes for the privilege: one to the Town of East Greenwich and one to the East Greenwich Fire District. In 2012, voters of East Greenwich approved a Town Council-supported non-binding referendum in support of consolidating the town and the fire district.

The Town Council then took the results of that referendum to the General Assembly for formal approval. The Fire District’s council equivalent, the Fire District Commissioners, were largely against the idea but the General Assembly sided with the Town Council and the merger was on. With that merger, the town got all the assets of the district, as well as all the liabilities.

One asset soon became a liability.

In 2002, the Fire District passed a resolution imposing commercial impact fees on all new development, with the idea that it would generate money for a fund to be used for large purchases, such as a new fire truck.

For the next 11 years, the district collected those fees, totalling nearly $1 million. When the town took over the district, however, the Town Council decided to discontinue that commercial impact fee. At the time and still today, the town charges impact fees on residential but not commercial development. According to former Town Council President Michael Isaacs, “We never did because we felt it was more important to encourage businesses to come to East Greenwich and have them pay property taxes forever.”

But several developers took exception to the Fire District’s impact fees and filed suit in 2013, just as the district became part of the town. The town won in Superior Court but then the plaintiffs appealed to the state Supreme Court and, in 2016, they won.

The state Supreme Court ruled the fire district had not provided plaintiffs with either notice or an opportunity to be heard prior to adopting the impact fees (find the ruling here: Supreme Court:Fire District Impact Fee ruling). Back in 2002, the Fire District had imposed the impact fees by resolution not ordinance and the Supreme Court ruled that failure denied developers due process. In other words, in 2002, the Fire District passed a resolution during one meeting instead of having the three readings an ordinance requires, including a public hearing at the second reading, giving anyone more of a chance to weigh in.

(The plaintiffs in the case paid from $3,432 to $75,017 in impact fees but those were not the largest impact fee bills. The largest fee – $400,000 – was paid by Brook’s Pharmacy, which built the Division Road headquarters later bought by New England Tech.)

Peter Clarkin, town solicitor when the town took over the fire district, said the Town Council assumed the fire district’s impact fee policy had been enacted properly.

“We had not reason to think otherwise,” he said Wednesday.

Former Town Council President Michael Isaacs defended the decision to bring the fire district into the town and he took issue with Corrigan’s characterization in her letter.

“Obviously, I disagree with those statements,” Isaacs said Wednesday. “We did conduct an economic analysis and we did consider the economic implications of taking over the fire district.”

He pointed out that what played out in court on the impact fees would affect East Greenwich taxpayers regardless of whether or not the town had taken on the fire district.

“The same taxpayers would be on the hook either way,” he said.

“[The consolidation] was the right thing to do, from an overarching public policy point of view. It made no sense to have a separate taxing authority for the fire district,” said Isaacs. “The fire commissioners were elected at a meeting where the quorum was 30 people and the town councilors were elected in a town-wide election. And two-thirds of voters agreed with consolidation.”

Jeff Cianciolo, who served on the Town Council at the time and was a vocal proponent for the merger, declined to comment.

“I don’t want to get involved,” he said.

With regard to Corrigan’s statement that there’s no evidence the town conducted any kind of fiscal analysis or risk assessment, former Town Manager Bill Sequino said the council was aware of the fire district’s pension and OPEB (other post-employment benefits) liabilities.

“It was in the audit report and the actuarial report,” Sequino said. 

With those expenses, too, the taxpayers are liable regardless of whether or not there is a separate fire district or a town fire department.

One unknown is exactly how much the town will have to pay in returned impact fees. The ruling made it possible for developers outside of the original lawsuit to be reimbursed. Corrigan said in her letter the cost could “more than a million dollars.”

Under former Town Manager Tom Coyle, the town had reserved $400,000 in impact fees in case litigation went against the town.

How the fire impact fee litigation factors into the need for an extension on last year’s audit is unclear, but Councilman Nino Granatiero said Wednesday that Corrigan’s letter was accurate. However, he said, he was unable to talk about it now.

“If it’s appropriate to come out, it will at the right time,” he said.


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Finance Director Dykeman Sues Former Employer

Finance Director Linda Dykeman.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Finance Director Linda Dykeman has filed suit against the YMCA and YMCA Executive Director Steven O’Donnell for sex discrimination, defamation and civil rights violations. Dykeman served as chief financial officer for the YMCA from March 2016 to February 2017.

According to the lawsuit, Dykeman was recruited to work at the YMCA. At the time Dykeman was hired, now-EG Town Manager Gayle Corrigan was chairwoman of the YMCA’s board of directors. Dykeman has worked with Corrigan in Corrigan’s consulting business – including in East Greenwich; they both worked in Central Falls when it was in bankruptcy under state control in 2012.

Dykeman is suing the YMCA and O’Donnell along with Karen Cooper, who worked as chief development and marketing officer at the Y from December 2016 to February 2017. Both Dykeman and Cooper left their positions voluntarily, but they say in their lawsuit that they were “constructively and unlawfully terminated” – essentially forced to leave their jobs because of an “intimidating and hostile environment” which they say was based on their gender.

Corrigan was voted off the board of the YMCA in January 2017 in a unanimous 32-0 vote. Dykeman and Cooper left the YMCA in February.

Corrigan filed a complaint against the YMCA and O’Donnell with the state Commission for Human Rights in March 2017, saying she was retaliated against after she tried to act on O’Donnell’s harassment of Dykeman and Cooper.

In Dykeman and Cooper’s lawsuit, they say O’Donnell, former chief of the state police, treated them more harshly than he did their male colleagues and that his harassment was “severe, pervasive and constant.”

Dykeman, Cooper and Corrigan are “co-founders” of the consulting firm Lozen Associates, which opened for business in March 2017.

Here’s a link to the lawsuit: Dykeman-Cooper Lawsuit.

3 Former Employees Sue Town Over Dismissals

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Three former Town Hall employees who were let go last summer have filed suit against the town, two for wrongful termination and the third for defamation and civil rights violations. All three suits also rely on findings in the November ruling against the town by Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl.

The wrongful termination accusations come from Kristin Benoit, laid off from her job as finance director, and Pam Aveyard, laid off from her job as executive assistant to the town manager, by then acting Town Manager Gayle Corrigan on June 30.

Laurie Perry, suing for defamation, had worked in the finance department and was laid off effective Sept. 5.

Benoit started working for the town in 2006 and took over as finance director in 2014.

According to her suit (Benoit v. Corrigan), Benoit “never received any warnings nor was she ever disciplined or counseled for deficient work performance” and that she learned she was being “separated” as of June 30 via a letter postmarked July 3 and which she received July 7. (Benoit was out on medical leave at the time.) The letter said the move was being taken due to “budget restructuring and fiscal consolidations.”

The lawsuit notes the June 19 Open Meetings Act violation found by Judge McGuirl, in which the Town Council met in executive session and voted to both approve a separation agreement with then Town Manager Tom Coyle and appoint Corrigan as acting town manager. But McGuirl found the council acted illegally when it failed to vote in public and did not include appointment of an acting town manager on the executive session agenda. McGuirl also ruled the town failed in keeping a record of the June 19 session. Because of those failures, McGuirl ruled Corrigan’s appointment at that meeting null and void. She also called the town’s actions “willful and knowing.”

Benoit also alleges that Corrigan’s appointment was in violation of the Town Charter because it requires the council appoint a “town officer” to serve as town manager in the event the town manager resigns or is removed from office. The town solicitor has argued it is within the Town Council’s right to appoint who it wants.

Benoit also cites a second OMA violation found by Judge McGuirl from a June 26 executive session, when the Town Council approved Corrigan’s plan to “One Town” restructuring plan which led to the dismissals of Benoit and Aveyard but that restructuring was not included in the agenda for the session (the two agenda items were a lawsuit with Pawtucket Credit Union and discussion of collective bargaining agreement obligations). Additionally, Benoit, a department head, was not notified in advance in writing that she would be discussed at the June 26 executive session. According to the Town Charter, termination of department heads must be done with Town Council approval. If that vote took place June 26, it was not on the agenda and was not recorded in the minutes.

Benoit alleges the council violated the Town Charter when it voted on “a major policy initiative … the so-called ‘One Town Plan,’ because the meeting was not open to the public.”

Corrigan and Dykeman had coined the term “One Town” in a presentation before the Town Council in early June – the idea behind it was to lower overall expenses through consolidation with the school department.

Benoit was replaced as finance director by Linda Dykeman, Gayle Corrigan’s consulting colleague, who was already doing work for the School Department. Dykeman is now finance director for both the town and the school department (although the school department also employee a second person to assist Dykeman in day-to-day activities).

Benoit’s lawsuit also claims discrimination because she was on medical leave at the time of her dismissal.

According to Aveyard’s lawsuit (Aveyard v. Corrigan), Town Solicitor David D’Agostino asked to meet with Aveyard June 30. During that meeting, D’Agostino gave her a letter signed by Corrigan that said Aveyard “was being separated” immediately for “budget restructuring and fiscal consolidations” needed to achieve the “One Town” model. That same afternoon, Corrigan sent out an email to town employees announcing the hiring of a chief of staff.

The newly hired chief of staff, Michaela Antunes, makes $24,000 a year more than Aveyard. The Aveyard lawsuit says her dismissal was not for restructuring and consolidation since her position – albeit under a new title – was not eliminated.

Both lawsuits assert violations of the Open Meetings Act, the Town Charter, the state medical leave act and the state civil rights act.

According to Laurie Perry’s lawsuit (Perry v. Town of EG), Perry learned she was laid off around Aug. 22 while she was out on medical leave from her clerk position in the finance department. Perry is married to Bill Perry, a town firefighter who is also head of the firefighters union. Finance Director Dykeman had concluded her department was overstaffed and laid off Perry, who had the lowest seniority.

But this came amidst several other actions taken against her husband and brother-in-law. The lawsuit refers to one well-documented incident in which Town Council President Sue Cienki said she would “cut off” Bill Perry’s private parts and feed them to his dog if he did not “handle” the firefighters. In addition, James Perry, Bill’s brother and an EG firefighter, was fired Aug. 19.

On Aug. 23, in another well-documented incident, Perry and her husband, Bill Perry, went to the finance department to retrieve Perry’s belongings. According to the lawsuit, Laurie Perry took her belongings and she and her husband ran into Dykeman in the hallway outside the finance office. Dykeman told Perry she wanted to see what Perry had taken – both the lawsuit and a police report from the incident agree with this account. Dykeman told Perry she needed to report to Town Manager Corrigan about what she had taken. The Perrys refused and left the building. Dykeman then called the police to report what had happened and to get a “no trespass” order for Perry for the finance department. According to the lawsuit, Dykeman called police after that initial request, asking the “no trespass” order include “all town offices,” which police did. Later that same afternoon, Chief of Staff Michaela Antunes sent an email to all town employees and the Town Council alerting them that a restraining order had been issued to Perry, applicable to all town buildings and facilities, and urging recipients to notify police if Perry were to be seen “in or upon town buildings etc.”

No restraining order had been issued.

A second email from Antunes to town employees incorrectly reused the word “restraining” with regard to a police order against Perry, the lawsuit claims.

A few days later, in a meeting with municipal employees’ union representatives, Corrigan said she’d learned Perry had a criminal conviction and that she would not consider Perry for an opening at the Parks & Rec Department because she didn’t want to “ruin” Perry’s career by having to publicize the conviction in the event Perry applied for the open position, according to the lawsuit.

In 2000, at age 19, Laurie Perry was convicted of breaking and entering a dwelling without consent of the owner, a felony, for which she completed 100 hours of community service and paid a fine.

That information was in Perry’s personnel file and was known to former Town Manager Tom Coyle at the time Perry was hired to work in the finance department.

The lawsuit also accuses Council Vice President Sean Todd of telling a news outlet that Laurie Perry had stolen property belonging to town employees as well as mentioning Perry’s criminal history (a person’s criminal history is public information).

The lawsuit states, “the false statements made by Antunes, Corrigan, and Todd constitute defamation. Those false statements have damaged Ms. Perry’s reputation; subjected her to distrust, ridicule, contempt and disgrace; negatively affected her character; and caused her to suffer mental distress.”

All three lawsuits make the case that because Superior Court Judge McGuirl ruled Corrigan’s appointment as town manager null and void, Corrigan’s actions after that illegal appointment are also null and void. The Town Council reappointed Corrigan as town manager Nov. 20 and Corrigan the reaffirmed actions she had taken after first being appointed in June.

These three lawsuits, all filed in the second half of December, bring the total number of lawsuits against the town to four, with another one pending from firefighter David Gorham, also for defamation. The town has also filed suit against the firefighters, to determine if it can restructure platoon shifts without union approval. In addition, three firefighters are seeking an investigation by the state police and state attorney general’s office about what they say was a failure to protect their personal medical information.

Town Sues Firefighters, Ups Ante on Negotiations

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The town filed suit against the East Greenwich firefighters union Tuesday, looking to Superior Court to decide if the town has the right to reorganize the fire department and implement a three-platoon, 56-hour work week. The town is seeking a declaratory judgment regarding its “right to decide the organizational structure, size, and appropriate staffing levels of the East Greenwich Fire Department.”

This follows two weeks of secret negotiations between the town and the firefighters.

“Currently, the Fire Department is incurring approximately 500 hours per week on overtime, which raises serious safety concerns. Clearly, something is wrong, and we are working to address that,” said Town Council President Sue Cienki in a press release sent out at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. “The Town is asking the Court for guidance and direction to ensure East Greenwich resolves this situation in a manner that is fair and equitable to both the union and taxpayers.”

The firefighters and the town are in the middle of a three-year contract (2016 to 2019) but town officials have been complaining about the contract and what they call excessive overtime since June, when financial consultants Gayle Corrigan and Linda Dykeman (now EG’s town manager and finance director, respectively) focused on the fire department in particular as a potential budget problem area.

Three of the current town council members signed the 2016 agreement – Cienki, Vice President Sean Todd and Councilman Mark Schwager. Cienki and Todd have said they didn’t really know the implications of the contract. Officials have laid blame for the contract on former Town Manager Tom Coyle, who separated from the town in June and whom Corrigan replaced, and former Fire Chief Russ McGillivray, who was dismissed in November.

In her presentation in June, Corrigan highlighted a change in the contract that added a firefighter to each shift, going from eight per shift with a “floater” to cover absences, to nine with no floater. Without the floater, if someone on a shift was sick, on vacation or injured, that shift would have to be filled by someone working overtime. Keeping the floater wouldn’t eliminate all overtime – often there is more than one person out per shift – but it would lower it.

According to union president Bill Perry, during the recent negotiations, the union and the town came to an agreement to forestall implementation of a 56-hour work week (right now, the firefighters work a four-platoon, 42-hour work week).

“We were blindsided by reading the press release on Facebook,” Perry said Tuesday evening, noting that the town had wanted the negotiations to be “hush-hush” and kept out of social media and news outlets.

Perry said he and other union representatives sat down to negotiate with attorney Tim Cavazza (who has made a name for himself getting municipalities to force fire departments into a 56-hour work week), Town Manager Gayle Corrigan and members of the Town Council  for several hours in recent weeks, following Corrigan’s recommendation to restructure the fire department.

“We negotiated in good faith. We came to an agreement – both parties agreed,” said Perry. “Attorney Cavazza sent over a tentative agreement last week and our lawyer has been reviewing the language and making some revisions. Then, lo and behold, this happens.”

He added, “We were basically at an agreement. Nothing was signed yet. It just takes time. They understood it was going to take some time.”

The town is also asking the court to weigh in on whether or not the town has to pay elected union officials for performing services on behalf of the union. It will delay implementation of a three-platoon structure, according to the press release, “while it awaits guidance form the Superior Court and continues negotiations.”

Excerpts From Judge McGuirl’s Ruling

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl issued a 74-page ruling in the case of the Town of East Greenwich versus James Perry and the EG firefighters union. You can find the entire ruling here: EGFA v. Gayle Corrigan, KC17-0898

Here are highlights:

On the Town argument that James Perry did not have standing to bring suit against the Town because he was not an aggrieved party:

It is difficult to imagine a situation in which a person is more aggrieved than when his or her job is abolished.

On the issue of James Perry’s termination:

The Town’s argument that Corrigan could appoint herself Acting Fire Chief for “administrative purposes”—a position that does not exist— without any authority from the Town Council so that she could then recommend, to herself as Town Manager, that FF Perry be fired is not persuasive to this Court and somewhat absurd.

On whether or not Town Manager Corrigan fired James Perry for just cause:

Based on the minimal and incomplete information gathered during her “investigation,” without considering the seemingly logical simple efforts that could have been undertaken to obtain further information, Corrigan sent firefighter Perry a termination letter, via e-mail, at 10:15 p.m. on Saturday, August 19, 2017. The termination letter was issued in such haste due to Chief McGillivray’s [expected] return on Monday, August 21, 2017, and firefighter Perry’s status as a probationary firefighter ending within days. Setting aside the lack of professionalism displayed by the Town with respect to the manner in which firefighter Perry was terminated, this Court finds without question based on the credible evidence before it that Corrigan did not engage in “careful and factual consideration,” as required by the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] before terminating firefighter Perry for “just cause.”

On the defense argument that James Perry could be fired because he lied on his resume:

It is clear from the evidence that firefighter Perry did not lie on his resume or misrepresent a material fact—he never used the word “certificate”; the reference to “(Coventry Fire Academy)” on firefighter Perry’s resume was very common and clear to any firefighter; a reasonable person with any knowledge of firefighter training practices knew or should have known that the language contained within firefighter Perry’s resume meant that he successfully completed Firefighter Level 1 and 2 training through the Coventry Fire Academy; firefighter Perry stated in his interview that he did not have physical certificates; the lack of physical certificates was common practice in Rhode Island firefighter training; there is no question firefighter Perry was both qualified and certified; and firefighter Perry’s certifications were verifiable. This Court finds the Town’s claims that firefighter Perry intentionally misrepresented himself and that he lied on his resume to be unwarranted toward a first responder who has dedicated himself to the fire service for twenty-eight years. There was no valid basis to terminate firefighter Perry.

On OMA violations from the June 19 Town Council meeting:

In light of the evidence presented, this Court concludes that the Town Council violated the OMA by failing to record any minutes from the June 19, 2017 meeting. Additionally, the Town Council voted to seal the Town Solicitor’s notes from the executive session, thus preventing the dissemination of any information to the public about the decision to appoint Gayle Corrigan to the Town’s most important position.

and

At the June 19, 2017 meeting, the Town Council appointed Corrigan as the Acting Town Manager. The agenda listed only one executive session item with no other information pertaining to the appointment of an Acting Town Manager. The Town Council exceeded the scope of the executive item listed on the agenda, which indicated that the Town Council would have “discussions concerning the job performance, character, or physical or mental health of a person in the employ of the Town of East Greenwich.”  Discussing and voting to appoint Corrigan as the Acting Town Manager violated of the Town Charter as it was not properly noticed on the agenda.

What Judge McGuirl called “The EGTC Pattern of Conduct Regarding the Open Meetings Act”:

The Town’s discussion of its intent to create a search process for the Town Manager position is misleading. The Town Council promoted the appearance of having the intention to utilize a search process for the position, all the while negotiating a contract with Corrigan to be executed at the July 10, 2017 meeting. With respect to the June 26, 2017 meeting, this Court does not find that it is in the spirit of the OMA to have discussions pertaining to “the Town’s relationship” with Corrigan in executive session. (Pls.’ Ex. 20.) It is clear that the Town Council is attempting to skirt around the requirements of the OMA by only entertaining discussions regarding Corrigan and the Town Manager position in executive session.

and

Taking into consideration that notice must reasonably describe the actions that the Town Council intends to take during a meeting, it is evident that the Town Council again did not provide proper notice of its intended actions with regard to the Town Manager position. See Tanner, 880 A.2d at 798. The agenda for the July 10, 2017 meeting did not reasonably describe its intentions to enter into a contract with Corrigan at that meeting.

Judge McGuirl’s “relief” or judicial remedy on Corrigan’s appointment:

Based on the compelling and credible evidence before it, this Court finds that the Town’s appointment of the Town Manager misled the public. The Plaintiffs argued that the Town’s efforts were designed to secure Corrigan’s appointment as Town Manager and minimize public opposition. Irrespective of the intent, the Town Council did not provide notice to the public, which limited the public’s opportunity to attend Town Council meetings and be heard. Instead of allowing the people of East Greenwich to be a part of the Town’s appointment process, the Town circumvented the requirements of the OMA to make decisions related to the Town’s most important appointed position that should have been subject to public scrutiny. In essence, the purpose of the OMA is to hold the Town Council accountable for the decisions it makes on the public’s behalf.

Accordingly, declaratory judgment shall enter for Plaintiffs against the EGTC for the Town Council’s violation of the OMA. Pursuant to its authority under § 42-46-8 of the OMA, this Court declares the Town Council’s vote on June 19, 2017 appointing Corrigan as Acting Town Manager null and void. This Court further declares the Town Council’s vote on July 24, 2017 to remove the term “Acting” from Corrigan’s designation and appointing her as Town Manager, as well as the Town Council’s vote to approve the terms of Corrigan’s contract in executive session, null and void.

Judge McGuirl’s “relief” on the James Perry termination:

Regardless of Corrigan’s authority to act as Town Manager, on the compelling and credible evidence presented, this Court finds that there was no valid basis to terminate FF Perry. The new Town Manager did not approve of the process under which FF Perry was hired. She certainly had a right to that viewpoint. The new Town Manager did not like it that FF Perry did not have a “certificate.” At the same time, she could not fire him for that reason since a certificate was not required for the job. As a result, the Town Manager accused him of lying and fraudulently insinuating whether he said he had a certificate. FF Perry did not lie. He never said he had a certificate—in fact, he stated that he did not.… The Town Manager was wrong. firefighter Perry did not lie. Firefighter Perry did not misrepresent anything. This Court finds it somewhat shocking that after hearing all of the credible testimony in the trial that contradicts her opinion, the Town Manager continues her inexplicable attitude and accusations regarding firefighter Perry…. He deserves better than he received from his employer, the Town of East Greenwich. Corrigan had no valid basis to terminate firefighter Perry. As a result of this Decision, firefighter Perry is ordered reinstated to his position with the EGFD as Corrigan’s actions on behalf of the Town are hereinafter null and void.

On Town Charter Violations:

Town Charter Violations Furthermore, for the reasons contained herein, this Court declares that the Town Council violated the Town Charter. Whereas there are no penalties included in the Town Charter, the Court is not going to assess any penalties. The Court will leave it to the citizens of the Town.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Judge Rules Corrigan’s Appointment ‘Null & Void’; Reinstates Firefighter

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan at the Nov. 6 Town Council meeting.

Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl issued a scathing ruling Wednesday against the Town of East Greenwich, accusing the Town Council of a pattern of noncompliance with the Open Meetings Act and rendering “null and void” the appointment of Gayle Corrigan as town manager. In addition, McGuirl overturned Corrigan’s firing of firefighter James Perry and ordered that he be reinstated. Also, McGuirl fined the town $1,000 for violating the Open Meetings Act on June 19 and another $1,000 for violating the OMA on July 26.

Find the entire 73-page ruling here: EGFA v. Gayle Corrigan, KC17-0898.

“It is very difficult for this court to view this time – a relatively short period of time – as anything but noncompliance with the Open Meetings Act and a somewhat willful attempt to violate that act,” McGuirl read from the bench, referring to the Council’s appointment of Corrigan during a meeting held in executive session June 19 without proper notification.

“The town’s conduct directly contravened the legislative intent in enacting the Open Meetings Act, which is that public business be performed in an open and public manner,” said McGuirl, “and that the citizens be advised and aware of the performances of public officials and the deliberations and discussions that go into the making of public policy.”

McGuirl found the town committed five willful, known violations of the Open Meetings Act. In the June 19 meeting, she said, the town failed to provide public notice (about appointing an acting town manager), improperly voted in executive session (to appoint Corrigan as town manager) and failed to keep minutes. In the July 24 meeting, the town failed to provide adequate notice (of the Town Council’s intent to remove the word “acting” from Corrigan’s town manager title) and improperly voted in executive session (on Corrigan’s contract).

She continued, “In my opinion … public service is an honor. Public officials are voted upon and trusted to represent their constituents and make decisions for them. That process needs to be done in the light and not in the dark. During a short period of time, the Town of East Greenwich conducted important business in the dark. The public did not have the right to hear the officials’ explanations, their discussions and their decisions…. It’s time for East Greenwich to turn the lights back on and keep them on.”

“The judge’s decision is a wake up call that the majority of the council is off track,” said Councilman Mark Schwager, the only council member to attend the ruling. He is the lone Democrat on the council and has consistently questioned the council’s actions.

“The Town of East Greenwich is not a private corporation and it’s not a town in receivership,” he said. “Good government requires that we have a good faith relationship with our public sector employees, that we have a collaborative, cooperative relationship with our School Committee and that we have an open and honest communication with our citizens. I’m going to continue to work to implement that approach in East Greenwich town government and I hope that my colleagues will join me in that effort.”

“I have a cinderblock off my shoulders right now,” said James Perry about the judge’s order that he be reinstated. “I want to go back to work. I’m just happy. I can sleep tonight.”

Reached via text, Council President Sue Cienki said Gayle Corrigan remained the town manager.

“Judge has not entered any order yet,” said Cienki.

Firefighter Sues Town, Council President for Defamation, Harassment

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Council President Sue Cienki, center, during a Town Council meeting in June. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan is to her right and Town Solicitor David D’Agostino is to her right.

David Gorman, an East Greenwich firefighter who was one of the six lateral transfers hired last year, has filed suit against the Town of East Greenwich and Council President Sue Cienki, saying that the town committed illegal acts “by and through its Town Council President.”

Cienki is being sued in both her official and individual capacities.

The lawsuit centers on a meeting at Town Hall June 12, with Cienki, former Town Manager Tom Coyle, Town Council Vice President Sean Todd, Fire Chief Russell McGillivray, EGFD Lt. Bill Perry (head of the EG firefighters union), and firefighter and union representative Michael Jones. Perry has said previously that he requested the meeting with town officials following a presentation at the June 5 Town Council meeting by then-consultants and now town manager and town finance director respectively Gayle Corrigan and Linda Dykeman. Perry said the presentation included misinformation about the fire department.

According to the lawsuit, during the meeting Cienki said she was unhappy with several town firefighters who had formerly worked for other municipalities because they came to the town with “history,” and she singled out Gorman, calling him “a sociopath.”

Gorman came to the EGFD from Central Coventry Fire District, where he had been the union president. Corrigan was hired to manage Central Coventry in March 2016; she continues to hold that position.

The lawsuit refers to an incident during the meeting that town officials and Cienki herself have acknowledged took place, in which Cienki said of Gorman, “I will cut off his **** and feed them to his god damn dog.”

After Perry complained to the town about Cienki’s comments, Town Solicitor David D’Agostino investigated the incident and Corrigan, who by then was town manager, said Cienki had been “counseled to not make such statements in the future as they are not productive to labor-management relationships.”

The lawsuit states Gorman sent a letter Sept. 8 to members of the Town Council describing Cienki’s defamatory and sexually harassing comments and asking for monetary compensation and other relief from the town and Cienki within 40 days. Gorman received no response to his letter, prompting the legal action.

According to the lawsuit, Cienki’s description of Gorman as a sociopath has damaged his reputation and her statement threatening his genitals constituted sexual harassment and violated the state Civil Rights Act. Gorman is seeking monetary damages.

You can read the complaint here: Gorman Complaint.

Perry Trial: During Closing Arguments, Judge Bores Into Town’s Case

Town Solicitor David D’Agostino had just begun his closing argument in the trial of the Town of East Greenwich versus EG firefighters, explaining how Town Manager Gayle Corrigan had to be the one to terminate firefighter James Perry because Acting Fire Chief Tom Mears couldn’t recommend termination.

“As a matter of law and fact, he had no role and could have no role,” D’Agostino said of Mears.

“Why is that?” asked Superior Court Judge Susan E. McGuirl, interrupting D’Agostino for the first of many interruptions over the next hour, making D’Agostino’s closing argument more a conversation with the judge than the traditional declaration.

Mears was only the acting fire chief for operations, D’Agostino replied.

“You’ve kind of made up that title,” said McGuirl.

McGuirl presided over a five-day trial in September over the validity of Corrigan’s appointment as acting town manager and, later, as town manager, and whether or not the town lawfully terminated probationary firefighter James Perry in August.

D’Agostino said Corrigan effectively had the title of acting fire chief of administration, so it would be up to her in that capacity to recommend (or not) Perry’s termination.

McGuirl said there was nothing about dividing up the job on the agenda for the Aug. 19 meeting when Mears was named acting fire chief (Chief Russell McGillivray was out on medical leave). She asked what administrative duties Corrigan undertook in that role.

“The primary duty was to fire Mr. Perry?”

“Yes,” said D’Agostino.

“So, she agreed with herself to do this,” said McGuirl, referring to Gayle Corrigan in her stated capacity as fire chief of administration recommending to Town Manager Gayle Corrigan to fire Perry.

“It’s almost an absurd exercise,” said D’Agostino.

“I may have to agree with you on that,” replied the judge.

D’Agostino said the town’s primary argument about why Perry was fired came down to “whether the town as an employer can certify [Perry’s] qualifications without using hearsay.”

Perry had listed Firefighter 1 & 2 under “certifications” on his resume to become an EG firefighter in 2016. He had been a full-time firefighter in Coventry since 1999 and was a lieutenant at the time he left to work in East Greenwich. The town had argued that without actual paper Firefighter 1 & 2 certification, he was guilty of “material misrepresentation” and thus could be fired.

“We still lack the ability to independently verify Perry’s qualifications,” he said.

“I’ve conducted a five-day trial and now you’re saying I don’t have jurisdiction?’ Judge McGuirl responded. ‘Isn’t this a day late and a dollar short?’

Then D’Agostino shifted to a brand new argument – that the court lacks jurisdiction over these matters because the plaintiffs (James Perry and the EG firefighters union) do not have standing to bring suit.

“I’ve conducted a five-day trial and now you’re saying I don’t have jurisdiction?” McGuirl responded. “Isn’t this a day late and a dollar short?”

D’Agostino said he was raising the issue now because of he’d only recently learned that the Rhode Island Secretary of State had revoked the firefighter union’s corporate status in 2009.

“An unlicensed corporation cannot bring suit in its own name,” he said. In addition, D’Agostino argued, James Perry did not have standing on the Open Meetings Act complaints because he was not injured by what transpired at those meetings.

When D’Agostino circled back to the June 19 meeting during which the Town Council voted to approve former Town Manager Tom Coyle’s “separation” from the town and Corrigan’s appointment as acting town manager, the judge again took issue.

“You knew you would need a new town manager. Why wasn’t it on the agenda?” McGuirl said.

The only item on the agenda for June 19 was discussion of an unspecified personnel issue.

Corrigan had testified during the trial that she’d talked to Council President Sue Cienki about the position in advance of the June 19 meeting, the judge recalled. “Everybody knew what was happening. Why wasn’t that on the agenda?”

D’Agostino said it wasn’t on the agenda because the council wasn’t sure under what condition Coyle would be leaving – separation, resignation or termination – and when exactly those terms would be worked out.

The judge then asked why there was no record of the votes taken in that session.

“I’m at a little bit of a loss to address that,” conceded D’Agostino.

“Didn’t [Corrigan] have to be an official of the town?” McGuirl said. “How did you get around that?”

D’Agostino said the challenge was in identifying “an officer of the town.” Under the town code, he said, only two positions are identified as town officers: the town solicitor and the sealer of weights and measures. So, he said, the Town Council overrode the charter using its legislative powers imbued by the General Assembly.

But the judge wasn’t done with D’Agostino over votes taken by the Town Council in executive session.

“The town charter says you need to vote in public, right?” McGuirl said.

“I disagree that the charter says what the court says it means,” countered D’Agostino.

“Reporting the vote is the same as the vote itself – is that what you are saying?” said the judge.

“Yes,” said D’Agostino

McGuirl also asked why the Town Council’s vote on Corrigan’s contract July 24 could not be found on the public record.

“There’s no question the Town Council voted to approve a contract,” said D’Agostino.

“How do I know that you voted on the term sheet? I don’t have that anywhere here,” the judge said. “That’s [the town clerk’s] job to record the minutes and she was sent home.”

“We know exactly what took place at that meeting,” D’Agostino said.

“We don’t know that,” McGuirl responded.

In his final argument, D’Agostino said the plaintiff’s request to remove Corrigan and nullify all of her actions was “sweeping and unprecedented,” and as such should be discounted.

In her closing argument, lawyer for Perry and the firefighters union Elizabeth Weins said that the burden of proof when an employee is accused of misrepresentation falls to the employer, in this case the Town of East Greenwich.

“The question is not whether he can verify the standard. The question was, did [Perry] misrepresent himself? He did not,” said Weins.

“There was nothing close to just cause for termination,” she continued, saying that Corrigan did not reach out to anyone, including Perry, to discuss his certifications, before firing Perry. Weins said Corrigan had been opposed to so-called “lateral hires” like Perry from the outset, because she thought it favored white males. She may have a moral objection to hires made before she was hired, but that does not equal just cause, Weins said.

With regard to the Open Meetings Act complaints, Weins said the votes should be “at the very least” invalidated and that the Town Council “should not be allowed to just reappoint her.”

On the jurisdictional issues raised in D’Agostino’s closing argument, Weins said unions are not corporate entities but are created by state statute. She also said that Perry “clearly” had standing.

“I don’t know that there’s anyone else in town who was affected more than Mr. Perry,” Weins said.

At the end of the closing arguments, Judge McGuirl told the two sides they needed to submit their post-trial briefs by end of day Wednesday.

“We need to move on this case. There have been some serious allegations made,” the judge said.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara