The Rhode Island Ethics Commission Friday found Gayle Corrigan guilty of three ethics violations relating to her time as town manager for the Town of East Greenwich after two days of testimony. They fined her a total of $3,251. She was found guilty of probable cause in four ethics complaints in 2018. According to John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island, most cases that are found to have probable cause are settled, noting that adjudications of this type are rare.
The proceedings took place virtually.
By a 5-0 vote, the commission found Corrigan to have committed a “knowing and willful” violation of the state ethics code by supervising and directing Linda Dykeman, her business associate in other ventures, in Dykeman’s role as consolidated town finance director. Corrigan and Dykeman both testified during the adjudication that Corrigan had no oversight over Dykeman, despite earlier conflicting statements to the commission from both women as well as a clearly defined supervisory role spelled out in the EG Town Charter.
The commission voted 3-2 to fine Corrigan $3,000 for that violation.
They then decided in a 5-0 vote that Corrigan had violated the state ethics code by failing “to timely file a 2016 financial statement.”
Corrigan filed her financial statement to the Ethics Commission 35 days late. She had argued this was the first time she’d had to fill out the statement and was ignorant of the requirements. The panel voted 4-1 to fine Corrigan $1 for that violation.
Lastly, the commission voted 5-0 that Corrigan failed to disclose on her 2016 financial statement that her company did business with the Central Coventry Fire District. The ethics form directs respondents to list any money they receive from other municipalities. Corrigan testified she didn’t realize CCFD was a municipality so she’d written “n/a” (not applicable) on that line. Corrigan’s company earned more than $200,000 from CCFD in 2016.
The commission voted 5-0 to fine Corrigan $250 for that violation.
The Ethics Commission failed to find Corrigan guilty of a fourth violation – that of Corrigan hiring a business associate – by a 3-2 vote, resulting in a dismissal of that complaint without prejudice. Corrigan argued she was only following the bidding of the Town Council in recommending Dykeman for the job in June 2017.
According to Common Cause Rhode Island’s executive director, John Marion, typically the Ethics Commission levies two levels of fines. “The smaller ones, in the hundreds of dollars, are for people who fail to disclose information on their annual conflict of interest forms, or fail to file the forms,” he said. “The commission seems to view those not as substantive violations of the Code of Ethics. In other words, they didn’t have a conflict, they just failed to fill out paperwork correctly, or failed to fill it out at all. The higher fines, in the thousands of dollars, are reserved for situations when someone engages in behavior that results in a conflict of interest. That’s what happened in the Corrigan case.” *
There is a question about who will have to pay the fines. The Town Council voted in 2017 to indemnify Corrigan against lawsuits filed for actions taken in her capacity as town manager. According to current Town Manager Andrew Nota, the town solicitor is reviewing the situation.
EG resident Bill Higgins, who filed the two complaints concerning Corrigan’s hiring and supervising of Linda Dykeman, said he was surprised the commission didn’t find Corrigan guilty of all four violations but said, “It was reassuring that the Ethics Commission does take complaints seriously.”
Higgins, a retired EG police officer, said he was concerned about Corrigan after she and Dykeman started consulting for the town and talked about the terrible shape of the town’s finances, echoing language that had been used years earlier about Central Falls. Corrigan and Dykeman had both worked in Central Falls under state-appointed receiver, former state Supreme Court Judge Bob Flanders. Flanders famously referred to the city’s subsequent restructuring of union contracts as a “haircut.”
“East Greenwich is very well run. There was no way we should be near bankruptcy,” Higgins said. “What was being done was wrong. I just couldn’t see her going forward with something that was absolutely wrong.”
Renu Englehart, who now serves on the Town Council, filed the two complaints having to do with Corrigan’s ethics filing.
“I remember just sort of being outraged about the fact she was so blatantly claiming all sorts of wrongs about the town,” Englehart said about why she decided to file her complaints. “It’s important. It shows she wasn’t completely honest. This will follow her forever.”
Corrigan has the right to appeal the decision to Superior Court. She did not respond to a text message seeking comment.
*Editor’s note: This paragraph was added after the original story was posted.