Corrigan Continues Assault on Fire District Merger

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan (left) presented another chapter to her look back at the 2013 merger of the East Greenwich Fire District into a town department, continuing her argument that it took place without due diligence and with grave financial consequences for the town. (Find her report here.)

As she has done several times in the months since she’s been town manager, Corrigan said the fire department was too expensive and needed to be fixed.

Her solution: restructure the department into three platoons that work 56 hours a week from the current four platoons and 42-hour work week. The town has sued the firefighters to be able to impose the restructure immediately; firefighters say they have a valid contract until 2019.

Corrigan’s report, while repeating arguments made in earlier reports, did take more exact aim at some of the people in charge in recent years. In particular, she cited what she said was the inexperience of former Town Manager Tom Coyle, former Town Solicitor Peter Clarkin and former Fire Chief Russ McGillivray in negotiating contracts.

However, Coyle served as police chief before becoming town manager and negotiated contracts in that position; Clarkin negotiated several rounds of contracts for three unions during his tenure in East Greenwich before adding the firefighter contract; McGillivray came from the larger West Warwick Fire Department and served as deputy chief in EG for three years before becoming chief. McGillivray and Coyle both hold master’s degrees in public administration.

Corrigan questioned the increase in the number of “service calls” (i.e. miscellaneous calls) between 2013 and 2014 (when the district became a department). As she said, the increase was due to the decision to classify alarm box resets as service calls.

In a phone interview Thursday, McGillivray (who took over as chief in 2013) offered this explanation for the classification change: “We were just trying to account for the hours and the work that the fire department was doing. When we went from the fire district to the fire department, I saw that social services and police department were very data driven and I wanted to get a better accounting of the work we actually did.”

Meanwhile, the total number of incident calls (including service calls) has risen steadily in recent years.  Even if service calls are subtracted, the fire department had more than 1,000 additional incidents in 2017 than it had in 2006, the year the fire district topped out at 36 total firefighters. In 2006 there were 2,386 incidents; in 2017, there were 4,121 (665 of them classified as service calls).

Corrigan also highlighted a jump in rescue billing rates between 2015 and 2016, but said she had not yet looked into the cause for the increases.

Former Fire Chief John McKenna (who served as chief from 2005 to 2010) was at the meeting Monday and during public comment he said that spike came after the billing company – Comstar – went from using a base rate and subcategories in its billing charges (for instance, separating out fees for starting an IV or using oxygen) to having one blended cost. McKenna, who now works in private industry, said the change was for all Comstar clients, public and private. McGillivray gave the same explanation Thursday.

In her report, Corrigan spoke about raises, saying some firefighters got a 48 percent raise in the current contract, while everyone else in town got 2 percent raises.

According to firefighter union president Bill Perry, the firefighters got a 2 percent raise like everyone else but he acknowledged that six so-called lateral transfers (firefighters hired from other departments) were given the salary of a second-year firefighter instead of a first-year firefighter, which came out to about $3 more per hour for those six firefighters (a 2 percent raise that year would have been in the range of 50 cents an hour).

He said he did not know where Corrigan got the 48 percent figure.

During public comment Monday, Perry urged the council to talk to other municipalities where they have put in a three-platoon system. There have been four.

In North Kingstown, town officials imposed a three-platoon system that was fought extensively and expensively in the courts; firefighters there lost after it was ruled they did not have a valid contract. A three-platoon system was also imposed in Providence, but the city abandoned it after years of litigation and went back to a four-platoon system. The city had to pay Providence firefighters several million dollars in overtime accrued during the three-platoon, 56-hour work weeks. Tiverton and Central Coventry Fire District also have three-platoon systems – Tiverton’s through negotiation and Central Coventry’s was imposed after that district went bankrupt. Corrigan runs Central Coventry.

“Do your due diligence. We have an active contract,” said Perry. “I would hope that everybody would be adults and sit down instead of having attorneys become wealthy off the community. Nobody benefits from that.”

“Bill, we’d be happy to sit down,” Council President Sue Cienki said.

The last attempt to negotiate failed in December; both sides blamed the other side.

Corrigan said she would present “phase one” of her restructuring plan at the April 9 Town Council meeting.



 

Town Council Outtakes: Manager Search Update, Bond Debt, Feisty Public Comment

The Town Council met at Town Hall for the first time in months Monday. The room was full, but seats remained in the balcony.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

At last Monday’s Town Council meeting, Councilman Nino Granatiero said round one interviews for town manager will be held in mid-April. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan has a contract through June 30; Granatiero and others have declined to say whether or not Corrigan is a candidate for the permanent position.

In an earlier interview, Granatiero said each Town Councilor had reviewed the 60-plus applications received for the position and submitted their top picks to Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, a process that winnowed the list to 12 candidates. Those applications were given to the six-person Town Manager Search Advisory Committee. That panel has decided to interview five candidates.

The Town Council will interview round two candidates.

Also at the meeting Monday, Finance Director Linda Dykeman gave an overview of the town’s bond debt – the money borrowed over the years to pay for such things as the new Cole Middle School, the police station, a renovation of Swift Gym into Swift Community Center, among other capital projects (East Greenwich Bond Overview March 2018).

That debt is double the state average. The majority of the debt is school debt, which is reimbursed 35 percent by the state Department of Education. The town’s bond rating – AA – remains strong. 

“We’re in debt double the rest of the state of Rhode Island,” said Council Vice President Sean Todd. “That’s not good.”

A lot of money was put into the town – it wasn’t frivolous spending,” countered Councilman Mark Schwager.

Dykeman said the debt repayment would decrease over time, much as a house mortgage does, as long as the town doesn’t approve additional bonds. That is unlikely; already on the plate this year is a request for a new Public Works garage to replace the facility built more than 50 years ago.

During public comment, Robert Vespia questioned the inclusion of a nonresident on the Town Manager Search Advisory Committee. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of Vespia’s comment and response from the Town Council:

Robert Vespia:

The ad hoc committee for the town manager advisory board has six members…. All the other committees have odd numbers in case there’s a tie vote. Why does the board have an even number? Also, a member of the committee is not a resident of the town. Per the charter – I just happen to have the section here … ‘No person shall be appointed to any board, commission or committee of the town unless he or she is a qualified elector of the town and a resident actually living in the town except as otherwise provided in the state law and by this charter. At the point when any member ceases to meet such qualification, the position shall become vacant.’ My understanding is there’s a member of the ad hoc committee that is not a resident of the town….

Council President Sue Cienki:

It is not really a board …

Councilman Andy Deutsch:

So, Rob, your issue is with Steve Lombardi, who’s the director of the Chamber of Commerce and dedicates –

RV:

my concern –

AD:

Let me finish my question. Your issue is with Steve Lombardi, who lives and breathes East Greenwich. He works tirelessly at the Chamber of Commerce, is probably the most impartial person, is very smart, has his finger on the pulse of the business community and the town. … You feel like Steve Lombardi is not a good option for the advisory board, yes or no?

RV:

My concern is with the Town Council following the charter not only when they find it convenient, but all the time.

AD:

‘Find it convenient.’ So, what would you like us to do?

RV:

Follow the charter.

AD:

You want Steve off the board, is that what you’re saying?

RV:

Follow the charter.

AD:

What would you like us to do with this particular situation, Mr. Vespia?

RV:

Follow the charter.

AD:

I hear you again and again. What would you like us to do about Mr. Lombardi?

RV:

Whatever’s necessary to follow the charter. How much clearer can I be? Follow the charter.

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan:

Can I clarify the charter with the solicitor, because it does move into the opioid task force. This is a ad hoc advisory committee. I know that Bob Houghtaling’s has, not a resident –

AD:

Should we take Bob Houghtaling off the task force to ‘follow the charter’?

GC:

Not only that, but he suggested many people who are not residents to be on the –

RV:

Is Bob an employee of the town? So he can be an ex-officio of the committee.

AD:

So Dave [D’Agostino, town solicitor], what are we violating? Tell us.

GC:

Dave, Bob has at least five or six people he would like on this task force, including local clergy, a lot of local people that can really help… I just need to know. I need to let Bob know before he gets too in-depth here.

David D’Agostino:

The view of this council as to these advisory or ad hoc groups I think is consistent, consistent with the opioid task force and whoever Bob Houghtaling wants to have on there and it would be the same with this board.

RV:

The only thing I know is the charter says any board, commission or committee. That’s what the charter says. You people throw the charter at us. We had to have a meeting at 8:30 on a Saturday morning because that’s what the charter said we had to do. You’re picking and choosing.

Councilman Nino Granatiero:

Let me jump in here for a second. We’re doing a lot of work on this town manager search. We’re asking people to take their personal time. Let’s make 100 percent certain that what he is saying is not correct or is correct and let’s go with it. Because I am not going to sit here and ask these really smart people Robert that are donating their time to make a good search, I’m not going to ask them to waste their time unless we can absolutely use it.

DD:

I’ll provide the council with a legal opinion and I’ll also address the opioid task force.

In another exchange, EG firefighter Tom Bailey spoke out about what he said were pressing safety concerns. Bailey is the safety officer for the fire department.

Tom Bailey: In the past, when we’ve had major storms there have been community center open for people to go to. The last two storms I’ve had multiple calls, people with medical conditions, people with no power in horrible situations with nowhere to go…. I had no answer. Nothing to tell them. We have a storm coming in tomorrow. What’s your plan? What’s your plan?

Councilman Nino Granatiero:

Stop with the pointing of the fingers –

TB:

The people need to know. Public safety has been put at risk long enough.

NG:

I’m just asking you to stop pointing the fingers … You’re saying it was closed the last two times. Is this the first time you’re bringing this to anyone’s attention?

TB:

I shouldn’t have to.

NG:

I’m asking a question: Is the is the first time you’re bringing this to someone’s attention?

TB:

Who am I going to talk to when the chief of the department is away over the weekend?

NG:

What I’m hearing is a finger-pointing guy who’s got a ‘gotcha’ situation, is that what I’m hearing?

TB:

No. No gotcha.

NG:

So you’re point is…

TB:

I can walk you through scenario after scenario. I’ve been at fires when Tom Coyle’s come out at 3 o’clock in the morning to check on the residents and us.

NG:

Tom Coyle’s not here. Russ McGillivray’s not here. Let’s move past all of this stuff. What is your point? That the community center should be open for people in this town, is that it?

TB:

My point is the safety in this town is being totally disregarded. We now have a chief who’s gone for multiple days.

Councilman Andy Deutsch:

So Chief McGillivray worked seven days straight? Your previous chief worked seven days straight?

TB:

No. We had a deputy chief and a chief. And there was a full chain of command that took place. Currently we’re working in a situation where – and it’s not his fault. I’ve talked to him and safety is utmost concern. It’s just the contract he’s working under. I in fact think he’s a really good guy. I think this decision that you guys are making – and I want it on public record – is going to cause a tragedy in this town unless you correct. Unless you correct. Time is running out. … You cannot predict when a storm is going to happen, when a fire is going to happen. You are flirting with disaster. And the outcome resulting will be on each of your shoulders, each of your shoulders. I am the safety officer of this town for the FD… I am here because I have waited patiently for change to come, for communication. We offered a deal to you; you walked away from it and planted it on us –

NG:

So this is more than the community center, is that it? Come on. Now you’re … enough.

Council President Sue Cienki:

We’re not going to get into contracts negotiations….

Another commenter, Gene Dumas, spoke about the March 2 storm, which downed two large pine trees on his Marion Street property. He was seeking to confirm how town departments communicate with each other in events like his and he wanted to thank town employees, especially those from public works, for their help. He and his elderly mother were without power for four days.

The Town Council also approved a reorganization of the Parks & Rec and Senior and Human Services departments. Read that story here. The panel meets next on Monday, March 26.

Town-School Consolidation Takes Step Closer to Reality

Sticking point remains School Committee’s desire for a finance staff person who reports solely to the superintendent, but the panel has few alternatives other than to comply.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

A proposal outlining town and school finance and human resources consolidation found a welcome reception before the Town Council this week, while the School Committee continues to struggle with the concept.

Both elected bodies have had a chance to review a memorandum of agreement put together by schools lawyer Matt Oliverio after extensive meetings in recent weeks between Supt. Victor Mercurio and Town Manager Gayle Corrigan.

Members of the Town Council said Monday night they were ready to go ahead with the plan, though Councilman Nino Granatiero said he didn’t understand why the School Committee felt it needed a memorandum of agreement to seal the deal.

“I read through it. It will work. But I just kind of shook my head that we need it,” he said.

Alternatively, the School Committee at their meeting March 6 tabled the MOA, still uncertain about the proposed consolidated finance office reporting structure.

“The deputy director of administration reports to the director of administration, not the superintendent,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, hitting on the issue that has challenged the committee since consolidation talks (under the “One Town” banner) last summer.

“I would have the same access that I have now,” Mercurio responded, noting that the town and schools have been sharing a finance director since June.

“I talk to [school department finance clerk] Christine Spagnoli now, without going through [joint Finance Director] Linda Dykeman,” he said.

Mark conceded that the access would remain the same, but wondered about the hiring process.

“The memorandum of understanding addresses most of my most pressing concerns but it doesn’t address the hiring or firing of the deputy director position,” Mark said. “I’m just concerned about that person not being a direct report to the superintendent.”

The plan, as put forth March 6, closely resembled Town Manager Corrigan’s ultimatum from December, when she said the town and the schools needed to decide whether they would “marry or divorce.” Divorce would mean the school district would need to rebuild staff that had been shared with the town since 2005. Marriage would be complete finance consolidation.

But Oliverio argued that the MOA he drafted and which was approved by Corrigan and town lawyer David D’Agostino provided safeguards for the schools, including a “non-interference clause” for positions that would report to both the town manager and the superintendent.

“In the decision-making process between the town manager and the superintendent, should they not agree, there is a dispute resolution process,” Oliverio said.

He added, “The only way that I could recommend this proposed consolidation was to have an opt-out provision that would be agreed upon by the Town Council and the School Committee.”

If either the town or the schools decided the arrangement wasn’t working, they could opt out at least 60 days before the end of the fiscal year.

However, Supt. Mercurio said at an earlier meeting – and several School Committee members agreed – that rebuilding a standalone school finance department was a fiscal non-starter; several positions were taken over by the town years ago, so it would necessitate hiring multiple staff members with money the school district doesn’t have.

Meanwhile, Dykeman said the money saved through the consolidation would be $70,000.

Another important aspect of this consolidation would be to move some school administrators over to Town Hall. If approved, the superintendent’s office would move to the second floor of Town Hall and special education would move to the ground floor. The Planning Department and IT would move to the school administration offices at 111 Peirce Street. The as-yet unrealized position of director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum director) would also be located at 111 Peirce Street.  Public Works would undertake the renovations with the town picking up the cost.

The School Committee will take up the MOA at its meeting next Tuesday, March 20. If the School Committee approves the plan, the Town Council will vote on it at their next meeting, March 26.

You can see details of the consolidation, including the new office plans, here.


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Council Approves Corrigan Restructuring Plan, Minus 1 Employee

The Town Council met at Town Hall for the first time in months Monday. The room was full, but seats were available in the balcony.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The Town Council liked Town Manager Gayle Corrigan’s plan to consolidate parks and recreation, senior and human services and drug abuse counseling into one department. It was less enthusiastic about adding an additional employee to an area that is already considered well-run and during a time of budget constraints.

The new consolidated department – which was approved by the council in a 4-0 vote (President Sue Cienki arrived after the discussion) – will be overseen by longtime Parks & Rec Director Cathy Bradley. Her job used to include human and senior services until additional staff was hired and a separate department established 11 years ago.

The restructuring comes after the departure of Senior and Human Services Director Erin McAndrew two weeks ago.

“We interviewed six people and realized quickly that none of them could take over all of Erin’s job,” Corrigan told the council. The job, she said, was 80 percent senior services and 20 percent human services.

Corrigan’s solution was to divide up the position, which led to the overall restructuring. In place of McAndrew, there would be a manager of senior services and a community resources manager.

“The extra position is community resource manager – the focal point for human services, could apply for grants, expand the reach of what we have,” she said.

Councilman Mark Schwager questioned the addition of the community services manager.

“My biggest concern now is adding another full-time position,” he said.

Councilman Nino Granatiero said he agreed with Schwager.

“I would recommend that we move ahead with the restructuring and put that one in the parking lot – think about that one some more,” said Nino Granatiero of the community resource manager position.

Part of the restructuring plan has substance abuse coordinator Bob Houghtaling reporting to Bradley – previously he’s reported to the town manager. Additionally, the plan calls for a recreation manager who would also report to Bradley. The Parks & Rec Department currently has a clerk position that is vacant, so while the town will need to hire someone to fill that position, that will not require adding a full-time staff member.

Corrigan said she would prefer keeping recreation manager post vacant for now and filling the new community resource position. Councilors remained unconvinced. The Parks & Recreation Department offers extensive year round programming, with expanded offerings in the summer.

In the end, the council’s vote to approve the restructuring did not include the community resource manager position. Charlotte Markey was approved as the new senior services manager. Markey is a special education teacher who has worked as a CNA. The council approved a salary of $50,000 a year for Markey. Cathy Bradley will see a pay increase to $100,000 a year for her expanded job as director of community services and parks.



 

This Week in EG: Busy Town Council Meeting, HS Budget Workshop

Still light at 5:45 p.m. Sunday, children spend the daylight at the skatepark at East Greenwich High School.

A weekly article that lists happenings in East Greenwich and nearby. If you have something you’d like to add, send your information to egreenwichnews@gmail.com.

Monday, March 12

Town Council meeting – The council shifts back to Town Hall for its meeting Monday, for the first time in months. On the agenda, the finance director will give a presentation on EG’s bond indebtedness (Review of EG bonds March 2018), various staff change approvals relating to the town manager’s decision to consolidate parks & rec, senior & human services and drug abuse prevention into one department, an update of the town-school consolidation effort, and a vote on adopting a new standard pay scale for town directors (Proposed Pay Scale for Top Town Positions), among other agenda items.

Tuesday, March 13

School Budget Workshop on Elementary & Secondary – In the library at Cole Middle School at 6:30 p.m. Here’s the agenda. The public is welcome.

Wednesday, March 14

Lunch on the Hill – If you are looking for some good food and company, stop by the dining room at St. Luke’s Church on Peirce Street where you will find both. A free lunch is offered every week, sponsored by various local churches and restaurants – a different church-restaurant combination each week.From 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Board of Assessment Review meeting – The panel meets in a conference room at Town Hall at 6 p.m.

Historic District Commission meeting – There are eight items on the agenda (find it here). The panel meets in Council Chambers at Town Hall at 6 p.m.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is OFF this week.

LOOKING AHEAD

Tuesday, March 20

EG Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours – At Providence Coal-Fired Pizza, 6105 Post Road in North Kingstown this month, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Members $5; non-members $10.

Friday, April 6

Wine and Wonderful – Tickets are available for the East Greenwich Rotary’s annual

Saturday, April 7

EG Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5K & 1 Mile Fun Run – The East Greenwich Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5k and 1 Mile Fun Run is coming up on Saturday, April 7, starting at 9 a.m. at Goddard Park. Proceeds go towards fully funding the popular Summer Track Series for ages 4-14 (do not have to be an EG resident to participate) on Wednesday nights in July at the EGHS track. We’ve been able to provide the series for free for 6 years. Last summer, 300 children came out during the first week! Find out more and register here.

And …

Town Boards Need You! – Here’s the list of town boards with vacancies.

  • Affordable Housing Commission
  • Board of Assessment Review
  • Cove Management Commission
  • Historic Cemetery Advisory Commission
  • Historic District Commission
  • Housing Authority
  • Juvenile Hearing Board
  • Municipal Land Trust
  • Planning Board
  • Senior and Community Center Advisory Council

In you are interested, go to www.eastgreenwichri.com/TownGovernment/BoardsCommissions for more information and an application or come to the Town Clerk’s Office at 125 Main Street. Submit applications and resumes to the same address or via email to lcarney@eastgreenwichri.com.

Register for email updates from the town – Sign up through the town’s Notify Me system and you can receive anything from a weekly email listing meetings and events to targeted emails about specific boards and commissions you are interested in. In addition, you will be notified in case of emergencies (i.e. parking bans, other important information). Click here to get started. And, for those who signed up before August, revisit the link if you have specific topics about which you’d like more information.


 

Letter to the Editor: Town Acquisition of Fire District Was Good Public Policy

By Michael B. Isaacs

A recent report by the Town Manager seems to question the 2013 acquisition of the formerly independent Fire District by the Town. The analysis did not address the larger public policy considerations and did not look at what is best for the Town and its residents in terms of governmental structure and sound government going forward.  In the numbers, it did not account for the fact that certain Fire District expenses were being paid by the Town.

First, some history. One of the biggest complaints about Rhode Island is the amount of government in this small geographic area. In an area approximate in size to some counties in other states, we have 39 cities and towns, 36 (regular and regional) school districts and more fire districts than municipalities.  In 2013, East Greenwich actually did something about too much redundant government – the independent Fire District was eliminated and the fire department moved into the municipal government as a Town department. This was sound public policy in 2013 and is sound public policy today.

If we were designing a governmental structure today, we would not set up two governments, one for the fire department and another for all the other governmental functions. That would not be cost-effective and it would not be good government. As to governance, the Town Council is elected in a general election with town-wide voting. The Fire District Commissioners were elected at a Fire District meeting at which the quorum was 30 voters. So, while getting only 16 votes, someone could become a Fire District Commissioner and set 10 percent of the taxes residents and businesses paid.

Concern over taxes, various governance issues and public policy concerns led the Town Council to propose a referendum on the Fire District. The voters overwhelmingly supported a merger, with 66.4 percent voting in favor. Legislation to effectuate the merger was passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor.

Besides the public policy reasons, there were immediate obvious cost savings. Both the Town and Fire District had separate legal counsel, separate auditors, separate clerks and other separate outside contractors. It should be noted that immediate cost savings were not as high as might have been expected in some other areas because the Town was already providing some services to the Fire District at no cost – tax billing and collection, accounts payable and payroll, information technology support, unified phone system, snow plowing, moving the Fire Marshal’s office to the building inspector’s office to create one stop for building approvals, DPW repairing Fire District vehicles and construction of a water line.  Except for the sharing of the costs of a mechanic for vehicle repairs, the Town did not bill the Fire District for the services provided. The costs were on the Town’s books. In providing these services, the Town Council believed that it was more important to reduce overall costs for taxpayers than to focus on cost allocations. It is also why the Fire District expenses and taxes were in reality understated. These facts were not taken into account in the numbers in the recent presentation.

The Town Manager and Town Council at the time did conduct due diligence and were well aware of the Fire District budget, finances and pension obligations. The merger was pursued for both financial reasons and taxpayer concerns and public policy reasons and to establish a better government structure going forward.  In this regard, it should be noted that tax increases by the municipal government were less than and more stable than those of the old Fire District. Furthermore, the state’s 4 percent tax cap on municipal taxes did not apply to Fire District taxes.

As to due diligence regarding the Fire District Commissioners’ decision to impose commercial impact fees, I am unclear what is being suggested. Ten years later, should the Town Council have done a legal analysis of the impact fee vote and concluded that ten years later the impact fees would be found to be illegal by the state Supreme Court?  

I also do not see how the analysis provides any help in addressing any current issues.  Whether there was an independent Fire District or a Town fire department, any financial costs would need to be addressed by exactly the same taxpayers since the old Fire District and Town government covered the same geographic area and taxed the same people and businesses.  

The Fire District merger was sound public policy and beneficial to the taxpayers of East Greenwich when it was accomplished and it remains sound public policy and beneficial today.

Michael B. Isaacs served as East Greenwich Town Council president from 2004 to 2016.

Corrigan on Fire District Merger: Well Intentioned But Flawed

Gayle Corrigan holds an audit from the EG Fire District during a presentation before the Town Council Feb. 26.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan told the Town Council Monday night that the town’s decision in 2013 to make the independent EG Fire District into a town department was not well considered and may well hurt fire department services in the long run.

“It’s not meant to point fingers,” she said. “Let me say that the decisions made at the time were well intentioned.”

Her presentation (found here: EG Fire District Analysis) came nearly two weeks after she emailed a letter to residents in which she said one of the reasons the town needed an extension to March 31 for its Fiscal Year 2017 audit was the failure of the town to do its due diligence when taking over the fire district. Specifically, she wrote:

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.

On Monday, Corrigan did not explain why the takeover of the EG Fire District led to the need to request more time for the audit. Rather, she presented what she called a fiscal analysis of the fire service before and after the merger. She praised the intricacies of the Fire District’s bookkeeping, noting that what had been explained over several pages in Fire District days was reduced to a few lines once the town took over.

In general, she said, the former Fire District – which was its own municipal taxing entity run by a board of five commissioners elected at a fire district town meeting (quorum of 30) – ran a relatively tight ship. In 2002, the district passed a resolution imposing impact fees on all new commercial development, with the idea that it would generate money for a fund to be used for large purchases, such as a new fire truck. But the district could also raise the tax rate if it needed to make a big purchase – a good thing, Corrigan said.

Starting in 2006, that particular attribute (limitless taxing ability) was no longer shared by the town. That year, the state General Assembly passed S-3050, which capped the amount cities and towns could increase taxes each year to 4 percent of the previous year. That law has never applied to fire districts.

They could tax their way out of any situation,” she said, referring to the fire district (you can see the variance in tax rates year to year on page 16 of Corrigan’s report, linked above.)

For many years, the fire district also had around $300,000 in annual revenue from the City of Warwick, which paid the district to cover Potowomut (which is not contiguous with the rest of Warwick). Warwick built a small fire station in Potowomut and discontinued that arrangement in 2015.

Corrigan also noted state payments of around $1 million between 2008 and 2012 to make up for car tax revenue it had discontinued, but that money would have been collected by the district had it not been discontinued by the state.

Those different revenue streams added up to a healthy fire district that could afford to buy new equipment without much strain, Corrigan said.

As luck would have it, the party ended around the same time the town took over the fire district. No more Warwick payments, no more state payments in lieu of car taxes. And no more commercial impact fees – the Town Council discontinued those with the merger.

Then things got worse. A lawsuit over those fire district commercial impact fees was resolved in 2016, against the town. In 2017, the town learned it would be on the hook for any commercial entity who paid Fire District impact fees, not just those that brought the lawsuit. The total amount, including fees and interest, could exceed $2 million.

Always, pension costs were rising, as they have been for all public employees.

The question hanging out there after Corrigan’s presentation was, should the town have taken over the fire district?

Council President Sue Cienki refused to weigh in on that, though she did echo Corrigan’s statements that it was a good thing that the former fire district was able to raise taxes above the town’s cap of 4 percent. That was a change from her usual line that taxes are too high. Cienki was the one behind the move to cut the tax rate for this fiscal year. 

The reality is that had the fire district remained independent, the judgment over those commercial impact fees would remain the same; pension costs would remain the same; the lack of money from Warwick would remain the same; the end of state reimbursements for car tax would stay the same. The only difference would be the collective bargaining agreements the town signed with the firefighters union in 2013 and 2016, which Corrigan has said are overly generous to the firefighters and over which the town is now suing the firefighters.


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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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Council OKs $42K for Highway Garage Study

When garage was built, town had only 20 or so vehicles; now it has 100.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The highway garage was built in 1968.

When highway garage head Jim Fogel first came to work for the town in 1982, the police department had 6 cars. Now it has 30. And the town didn’t take care of fire trucks (the town only got a fire department in 2013 – before that there was a separate fire district) or school vehicles.

Now the town has 100 vehicles – everything from ladder fire trucks to unmarked police cars and they all visit the town’s highway garage on Bear Swamp Road off Frenchtown.

“It’s a busy shop. There are always fire department and police vehicles cycling through for routine maintenance,” said Public Works Director Joe Duarte.

It’s a lot for a facility built in 1967, he said.

In fact, he’s been asking for improvements for years, but there were always been more important matters – a new police station, a refurbished Swift Community Center, school building improvements. Duarte is hoping that maybe this year the town is finally ready to address the highway garage.

Earlier this month, the Town Council approved a $42,000 space needs analysis to be done by HKT Architects, of Somerville, Mass.

According to Duarte, HKT has done lots of projects like these. The firm will draw up preliminary conceptual plans that will provide an estimate of how much it would cost to upgrade the facility.

“We will know exactly how much to bond this project,” Duarte told the council.

While the council can approve this analysis, paying for the actual improvements – borrowing the money – will have to be approved by the voters. Duarte said he hopes the work will be done in time so a bond could be included on the November ballot.

A rescue truck is worked on at the highway garage.

“A good highway garage with a good crew can save a community a ton of money. But we need the right tools,” Duarte said during a recent tour of the highway garage. “If the facility were better and bigger, town equipment would last longer.”

Fogel and Duarte said town vehicles would last longer if they were stored inside. Right now, the only time most vehicles are indoors is when they are being worked on by one of the town’s three mechanics. Even brand new vehicles, such as a $205,000 street sweeper that arrived this month, must stay outdoors.

A few town vehicles are too large to be worked on in the garage – the ceiling is too low to open the cabs on the larger fire engines. Those trucks need to be worked on outside, regardless of the weather. The garage could also use an enclosed machine shop – work like welding is done in the open now. 

According to Fogel, the town poured a concrete slab next to the garage in preparation for an addition in 1982. The addition was never built but the slab is still there, used to park trucks, wash them, and – if they are too big for the garage – to work on them.  

The current salt and sand shed can hold enough for about 2 storms.

Duarte said the town could also use a larger shed to store sand and salt.

“The RI EMA recommends cities and towns have at least a half season’s worth of sand,” he said. EG’s sand shed can hold enough for about two storms; typically the town has 12 to 15 storms a year.

Eager to show the breadth of work done at the facility, Fogel pointed out a new dock his crew had built for the town’s boat launch.

“We do everything at the highway garage, not just plowing,” he said.

Letter to the Editor: Cienki Says Council Hires & Doesn’t Hire – Which Is It?

As a resident of East Greenwich, I have been closely following the many recent news items related to East Greenwich’s municipal government, including a January 19 article in the Pendulum regarding the Ethics Commission’s investigation of Gayle Corrigan. As I understand it, a threshold issue before the Ethics Commission is whether Corrigan or the Town Council is responsible for hiring the Town’s Finance Director. Having read a few different accounts, I remain unclear.

A January 12 article in the East Greenwich News quotes Town Council President Sue Cienki as saying “Per the Town Charter, the Town’s finance director is appointed by the Town Council, not the town manager. . . . It was the Council’s decision to hire Ms. Dykeman, not Ms. Corrigan’s.” 

EG News confirmed that the article quotes Cienki’s written statement verbatim. 

Yet in a meeting held on December 20 with me, two other residents, and Council Vice President Sean Todd, Ms. Cienki said, “We’re a policy board.  That’s what we do.  The only management control we have is Town Manager.  That’s the only person we appoint and fire.”  The audio clip below contains that statement (the meeting was recorded with the knowledge and consent of all attendees).

I have submitted an email similar to this to the editor of the Pendulum as well.  Has EG News reached out to any of the East Greenwich Town Councilors for their comment to this article? Does their president have a clear understanding of the scope of the Town Council’s powers? Do they?

Thank you,

Anne Musella