The EGFD firefighters union (Local 3328) is suing the Town of East Greenwich for improperly dismissing firefighter James Perry and for appointing Gayle Corrigan to the job of town manager without proper notice. The two sides are due to appear in Kent County Superior Court Friday. (Find the lawsuit here: Firefighters Union Complaint Against the Town of East Greenwich.)
In addition, resident David Caldwell and East Greenwich News have filed separate Open Meetings Act complaints with the Attorney General’s office.
The union’s lawsuit states that Perry (brother of Local 3328 President Bill Perry) was fired by Town Manager Gayle Corrigan without the recommendation of Fire Chief Russell McGillivray or the acting chief at the time, as is set forth in the Town Charter:
“At the time of their permanent appointment, all members of the Department shall have served for a period of not less than 12 months in probationary status, during which time they may be removed by the Town Manager, with or without cause, upon recommendation of the Fire Chief.”
Perry was on probationary status (due to end Aug. 21) at the time the union was notified of his firing, in an email sent Saturday, Aug. 19, after 10 p.m. to Bill Perry as union president. Jim Perry was officially notified by Corrigan on Aug. 23, also via email.
In the email, Corrigan said the reason for the dismissal was “the Town has discovered that you made material misrepresentation regarding your qualifications as a firefighter as part of your probationary hiring process. Specifically, you represented on documents submitted to the Town that you possess Firefighter Level 1 & 2 NFPA 1001-1002 Certifications, which you do not possess.”
Level 1 certification covers basic firefighter duties; Level 2 covers driving and operating fire apparatus. According to the complaint, Perry, who was a Coventry Fire District firefighter for 17 years, the last 7 as a lieutenant, “easily met the minimum job performance requirements” for both levels. The complaint continued, “However, as is not uncommon, Perry was never given a formal ‘certificate’ by the Coventry Fire District.”
The union asserts that Perry was asked about his certifications during his interview and he told his interviewers that while he had undergone the training for both levels, he was not given a written certificate. The complaint notes that the interview committee told Perry they did not require the certificate. According to the complaint, Perry received positive evaluations during his months with the EG Fire Department. He was injured on duty June 30 and was out on leave at the time of his firing.
At a hearing Aug. 31, Judge Jeffrey A. Lanphear issued a temporary order requiring the town to pay Perry’s wages from the date of his dismissal (Aug. 19) until the court decides the matter. In the event the court decides against Perry, said Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, there is a provision in the order that allows the town to “clawback” wages paid to Perry from Aug. 19 on.
Aug. 19 was the same day the Town Council held an unusual Saturday morning meeting for the sole purpose of naming an acting fire chief. The council appointed Capt. Thomas Mears to serve as acting chief in an action Council President Sue Cienki said was the correct way to do things as outlined in the charter. Chief McGillivray had, until this time, designated an acting chief during his absences without going to the council for approve.
According to the complaint, neither Mears or McGillivray (who returned to work Aug. 21) recommended that Perry be fired.
The complaint also accuses the Town Council of violating the state’s Open Meetings Act when it failed to include appointment of an acting town manager on the agenda for its June 19 meeting as well as failing to hold the vote on that appointment in open session.
The executive session agenda for that meeting listed “discussions concerning the job performance, character, or physical or mental health of a person in the employ of the Town of East Greenwich.” Ostensibly, that person was then-Town Manager Tom Coyle, who attended part of that closed meeting along with his lawyer. When the meeting returned to open session, Solicitor D’Agostino announced that Coyle had “separated” from the town. Then he announced that the council had voted in closed session to appoint Gayle Corrigan – a financial consultant hired by the town in April under the company name Providence Analytics – acting town manager. At the request of Councilman Mark Schwager, D’Agostino read out the results of the vote, which was 4-1, with Schwager casting the only dissenting vote.
The union’s complaint also accuses the Town Council of a third Open Meetings Act violation, when at its meeting July 24 the panel voted to remove the word “acting” from then-Acting Town Manager Corrigan’s title but failed to list that discussion and vote on the agenda.
In David Caldwell’s OMA complaint to the Attorney General, he makes some of the same Open Meetings Act accusations as Local 3328 but adds to them, including citing what he called a “rolling quorum” meeting in which three members of the Town Council held a series of meetings in the town manager’s office on Aug. 23 (as reported by journalist Bob Plain). According to the OMA, when a majority of members of a public body are gathered, it is considered a meeting and must be noticed as such.
East Greenwich News also filed a complaint with the AG’s office after Corrigan used her “Town Manager’s Report” during the Town Council meeting Aug. 28 to introduce a consultant who presented a 25-minute-long fiscal analysis of the current and previous firefighter contracts that was not included on the agenda for that evening. The town has until Sept. 19 to answer the EG News complaint.
In an email Sept. 5, Corrigan’s Chief of Staff, Michaela Antunes, offered this explanation for Corrigan’s decision not to include the fiscal analysis report as a separate agenda item as she had done with the Public Works director’s report on the sewers: “The fiscal impact analysis was presented as part of the Town Manager’s report because it is the Town Manager’s responsibility to make this information available to the Council and the public.”
– Elizabeth F. McNamara