Above: Gayle Corrigan, center, during a Town Council meeting in 2018. She served as town manager from June 2017 to December 2018.
She faces two ethics charges from her time as East Greenwich town manager
In a rare state Ethics Commission adjudication (i.e. hearing), Gayle Corrigan testified in her defense regarding two ethics charges dating from her time as East Greenwich town manager between June 2017 and December 2018.
The two charges were filed independently but were eventually combined into one case after the Ethics Commission found both complaints had “probable cause.”
The first complaint, filed by EG resident Bill Higgins in 2017, accused Corrigan of hiring and supervising her business associate, Linda Dykeman, in contradiction of state laws. The second complaint, filed in April 2018 by Renu Englehart (who now serves on the Town Council), accused Corrigan of failing to document more than $200,000 in earnings from a “state or municipal entity” in her Ethics Commission filing for 2016.
“This is an adjudication, which is a pretty rare thing…. The vast majority of complaints are settled, so this is significant,” said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, a democracy watchdog group.
The virtual session Tuesday included testimony from former Town Council President Sue Cienki (who now serves as head of the state Republican Party) as well as Corrigan. Cienki was questioned about the charge involving Linda Dykeman. She and Corrigan have argued since the complaint was first made that it was Cienki and her allies on the Town Council who really chose Dykeman, not Corrigan.
Corrigan and Dykeman have been business associates for several years and were hired together as Providence Analytics in early 2017 by the town to assist the school district with a structural deficit. Soon their role expanded to look at the town’s finances as well. By June 2017, the Town Council had negotiated a departure with then-Town Manager Tom Coyle and they slotted Corrigan in as “acting town manager.” Days later, Corrigan announced a restructuring, firing the town’s finance director, personnel director and the executive assistant to the town manager and naming Linda Dykeman to the role as finance director as well as a new executive assistant.
In her testimony, Corrigan said several members of the Town Council told her to name Dykeman as finance director.
“You never told Ms. Cienki it was a potential conflict of interest, did you?” said Ethics Commission prosecutor Katherine D’Arezzo.
“It never crossed my mind,” Corrigan replied. “Everybody was aware of my business relationship with Linda Dykeman.”
D’Arezzo presented excerpts of the East Greenwich Town Charter as exhibits, including where it dictates the town manager shall appoint department heads with the approval of the Town Council.
According to the Town Charter, “This is considered an ‘at will’ appointment and you may be subject to removal by the town manager…” and “This term sheet shall be extended at the sole discretion of the town manager.”
“You had discretionary authority,” said D’Arezzo.
“It might say that, but in actual fact I did not,” Corrigan replied.
Also during Corrigan’s testimony, D’Arezzo asked her, “You supervised Ms. Dykeman?
“I take issue with the word ‘supervision,’” said Corrigan. She added, “I was working extremely hard and the one thing I wasn’t doing was supervising Linda Dykeman because I was doing town manager work.”
When she was questioned by her own attorney, Richard Kirby, Corrigan said she hadn’t worked on Dykeman’s term sheet, that the work had been done by town lawyers.
Referring to Corrigan’s role as Dykeman’s boss, Kirby asked, “Is it fair to say that your supervision … was merely a ministerial supervision and direction?”
“I would agree that it was ministerial, if that,” replied Corrigan.
The second ethics charge had to do with an ethics filing Corrigan submitted in 2017 for the year 2016 in which she failed to note more than $200,000 in earnings from the Central Coventry Fire District (CCFD), where she served (and continues to serve) as district manager.
The question on the form asked about earnings from any state or municipal entities; Corrigan wrote “N/A” on that line, as in “not applicable.”
On Tuesday, she argued she didn’t realize CCFD was a municipal entity.
“The thought at the time was a fire district was not a municipality. Because it’s quasi governmental, but we talked about it at the time and we concluded it didn’t apply to fire districts,” Corrigan testified.
D’Arezzo: “You acknowledge that the Central Coventry Fire District is a public body?”
Corrigan: “I know that now. On Jan. 26 of 2018 [the date of the original filing], I did not know that.”
D’Arezzo: “In January 2018 you did not know it was a governmental body?”
Corrigan: “I knew it was a semi, quasi institution. I did not know that it qualified as a state or municipal agency. I don’t think I ever had any thought about whether it was a public body or not.”
D’Arezzo: “You do hold public meetings under the Open Meetings Act?”
Corrigan: “They do, yes.”
D’Arezzo: “And you, as district manager, are listed as the contact person for open meetings on the Secretary of State’s website. Is that correct?”
Corrigan: “I’m not sure.”
Corrigan is listed as the contact person for CCFD on the Secretary of State’s website HERE.
She said she filled out the form with the help of two lawyers – then-Town Solicitor David D’Agostino and David Abbott, a lawyer with Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder & Siket, a firm hired by the town to address a variety of tasks in addition to what D’Agostino was doing. Abbott is now deceased. Corrigan said there was no instruction sheet so, in essence, they punted when it came to that question about whether or not she’d derived compensation in excess of $250 from any municipal or state agency.
“I did not know the existence of an instruction sheet until I visited you in your office and you showed me one,” Corrigan told D’Arezzo. “As soon as we found out that was not correct, we amended the filing. It was not intentional. It was not … I had no idea. It was not willful or intentional.”
D’Arezzo then called Michelle Berg, financial disclosure officer for the state Ethics Commission, to testify. Berg said she clearly recalled mailing Corrigan the ethics form to complete, including the filing instructions and information about how to file online.
“How likely is it that you would have failed to include the hard copy instructions?” D’Arezzo asked Berg.
“It’s not very likely because they are collated together and without the instructions the envelope would be a lot thinner,” said Berg.
D’Arezzo also presented the cover sheet for the mailing, which was part of the instruction packet and included Corrigan’s printed address.
“Are you absolutely certain that she got this?” D’Arezzo asked about the instructions.
Because that was the only page that had Corrigan’s address, Berg said, it would not have reached Corrigan without it.
After Berg was done testifying, the adjudication was stopped for the day with plans to finish testimony Friday, March 12, at 9 a.m. If found guilty, Corrigan could face fines of up to $25,000.