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.

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