By Elizabeth F. McNamara
When the Town Council agenda for its meeting Tuesday promised to correct procedural errors but keep Town Manager Gayle Corrigan in place, that proved too much for some residents who had hoped the ruling Wednesday by Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl would give the Town Council pause regarding Corrigan.
In the ruling, McGuirl chastised the Town of East Greenwich for five Open Meetings Act violations – including the appointment of Corrigan, which McGuirl rendered “null and void” – and for the improper firing of firefighter James Perry, who she ordered reinstated.
Wednesday evening, an agenda appeared on the town website for a special meeting Tuesday night to do three things: appoint Corrigan town manager, ratify her contract, and ratify all the actions she’s taken since she was initially appointed June 19. And in her statement, Town Council President Sue Cienki said “we are extremely disappointed with the ruling.”
The frustration bubbled over on social media.
“How much is all this litigation going to cost the town? Judge McGuirl has fined the town in the open meeting violation, sending our tax dollars to the State. In addition, the town has to pay the attorney fees for the plaintiff. That could be over $50,000…. I would rather see our tax dollars go to the schools then the lawyers,” wrote Michael Zarrella, who ran for Town Council in 2016, on the East Greenwich Parents for Excellence Facebook page.
“Town Council members keep saying they don’t get negative feedback phone calls and emails,” the post reads. “This could be a log of calls, emails, texts, snail mail.”
Comments on East Greenwich News have also questioned the council’s decision to reappoint Corrigan.
“On October 23rd, I sent all members of the East Greenwich Town Council irrefutable evidence that their claims of skyrocketing tax bills are false. To date none have responded. The council’s behavior can be summed up as: 1) Ignore the facts; 2) Ignore the law; and 3) Ignore the residents. To paraphrase Judge McGuirl, we deserve better,” wrote Eugene Quinn.
“The citizens and residents of East Greenwich deserve a Town Council that serves the Town, without ‘unnecessary controversy’ and ‘unnecessary problem creation,’ for the betterment of the town, the schools, the residents, and the good youngsters in our town. The Town Council, with its attitude, has created nothing more than unnecessary controversy. I have resided in East Greenwich for over 40 years, and have never before witnessed the ‘rats nest’ that is being created by the Town Council and Town Manager, with what is going on in town,” commented Joseph O’Hara.
Some have taken further steps.
The East Greenwich Town Democratic Committee is hosting “Turn the Lights Back On,” in response to the decision by the Town Council not to include public comment at the meeting Tuesday. (Judge McGuirl ended her ruling with a call for East Greenwich to “turn the lights back on and keep them on.) The forum will immediately follow the meeting Tuesday, “to give residents the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions to any willing Town Council members.”
According to the EGTDC’s Facebook page, Councilman Mark Schwager, the council’s lone Democrat and a regular voice of opposition during council meetings, will attend the forum, which will be held at the Varnum Armory on Main Street at Division Street.
“All are welcome. We will walk to the Armory immediately following the Town Council meeting. Please bring a flashlight and walk with us as we ‘turn the lights back on’ together,” reads the event description.
Resident David Caldwell, who has spoken out against actions taken by Corrigan at nearly every Town Council meeting in recent months, has organized a petition drive to get the council to rethink its decision to appoint Corrigan. His aim, like some others, is to prove that the anti-Corrigan movement has broad support and is not “just a couple of malcontents and union supporters,” he said an interview Friday.
“To run an organization you’ve got to seek out the support of the people who are working for you,” he said of why he’s opposing Corrigan’s reappointment. “Particularly with her illegal firing of Jim Perry, Gayle Corrigan has sent a loud and clear message that she sees public employees – her employees – as the enemy and that they should fear opposing her.”
He added, “I understand that pension costs are a really important fact in state and local government. I am not against doing what we need to do to have those hard conversations. But we need our government to be abiding by the law and treating people who work for us with dignity and respect first and then we can get into policy.”
While Caldwell may be behind the petition, he doesn’t actually think it’s the best way to convince town councilors.
“The number one thing they can do is call. Having a conversation with our five Town Council members is the best thing you can do,” he said. “And show up on Tuesday.”
To contact the Town Council, you’ll find their emails on the town website here.