By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Judge Susan McGuirl has given the Town Council a little breathing room with regard to Town Manager Gayle Corrigan. Although McGuirl ruled Wednesday that Corrigan’s appointment as town manager in June was “null and void,” Corrigan remains town manager until the judge enters the order nullifying that appointment and she won’t do that until Tuesday, according to lawyer for the firefighters Elizabeth Wiens.
An agenda for that special Tuesday meeting – to be held in public session –includes three items: appointment of Corrigan as town manager, ratification of her contract back to July 1, and ratification of all actions taken by Gayle Corrigan between July 1 and Nov. 14.
It is unclear what happens to personnel decisions Corrigan executed June 30, when she laid off Finance Director Kristin Benoit, Human Resources Director Sharon Kitchin and assistant to the town manager Pam Aveyard, and hired her consulting colleague Linda Dykeman as finance director and Michaela Antunes as the town manager’s chief of staff (a newly created position). Town Council President Sue Cienki Wednesday night did not immediately respond to a question about this sent to her via text.
In a statement, Cienki said, “We are extremely disappointed in the court’s decision. We firmly believe in responsible and transparent government, and we were not aware of any compliance issues until today’s ruling. Any violations of the Open Meetings Act were inadvertent.”
Despite Cienki’s contention that the Town Council was not aware of any Open Meetings Act compliance issues prior to Wednesday’s ruling, questions about OMA violations have dogged the Town Council since Corrigan’s appointment June 19, including questions from Cienki’s own council colleague Mark Schwager, who repeatedly asked for the council to review past acts. In addition, numerous residents have spoken at length during the public comment portion of council meetings, addressing the very concerns Judge McGuirl found so troubling.
After the ruling Wednesday, Councilman Nino Granatiero called the five OMA violations “embarrassing.”
“The Open Meetings violations … that just shouldn’t happen,” he said. “That’s a procedural error that we should not be making and it undermines the credibility of the Town Council.”
Granatiero placed the blame for the OMA violations on what he called “the team”: the Town Council, Corrigan, and Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, and he said the buck stopped with the Town Council. But he rejected the judge’s characterization of the violations as “willful.”
“Nobody on the council’s trying to get stuff by the residents,” he said. “We have a very smart population. If you think you’re able to get the puck through the five-hole with these residents, you’re out of your mind.” (A five-hole is the a hockey term for the space between the goaltender’s legs.)
Granatiero was not happy about Judge McGuirl’s decision to reinstate firefighter James Perry and stood by the town’s action.
“She disagreed that he had not misrepresented himself,” he said. “I’m obviously very disappointed that she didn’t agree with the reason for the dismissal. He’s back on the team. I don’t like that fact that he lied.”
Granatiero said he did not blame Corrigan for the way Perry was fired because the council had been in on the decision.
“When things go right and when things go wrong, that’s on the Town Council,” he said. “That kind of decision is not made in a vacuum.”
The judge’s words about Corrigan and Perry were unstinting:
“This Court finds it somewhat shocking that after hearing all of the credible testimony in the trial that contradicts her opinion, the Town Manager continues her inexplicable attitude and accusations regarding firefighter Perry…. He deserves better than he received from his employer, the Town of East Greenwich.”
This story has been updated.