Opinion: We Want Town to Do Right Thing

by | Oct 25, 2022

By Christopher Lamendola

There is an old Army Air Force saying: “If you take flack, you know you are over the target!” For the past ten years or so, three families on Sarah’s Trace in East Greenwich have been living with the consequences of poor construction practices and political cover-up during and after the building of Cole Middle School. After enduring over ten years of more than $1.5 million of documented damage to our homes, from broken chimneys and flues to buckled floors and cracked walls and foundations, none of it covered by homeowners’ insurance. We are out of money, out of patience, and out of confidence in our elected leaders. Incredibly, after recently finding and disclosing corruption designed to sweep away our complaints, WE are now “catching flak.” Big time!

In 2010, after hearing consistent concerns and complaints from residents on Sarah’s Trace, Christopher Whitney, an experienced Rhode Island construction lawyer, was hired by the EG School Committee to come to a resolution of the Sarah’s Trace damaged homes. Once in place, Mr. Whitney shut down all communication among the families, the town, and the contractor Gilbane Building Company. Mr. Whitney blocked “the complainers.” So, we were forced to sue and go to court at a cost of $600K seeking compensation for the damage to our homes. We lost. The judge inexplicably refused to inform the jurors of our total damages, so we were awarded a pittance of $83,000 each for nuisance not damages, not even close to covering our costly repairs. And in an even more outrageous decision by the judge, we were made responsible for Gilbane’s legal fees!  A “full Rhode Island,” for sure. Game. Set. Match. Or, so they thought.

Fast forward to 2018. During that election season, an anonymous email showed up in my mailbox with an attachment…an email from Attorney Whitney to Jonathan Winikur, the president of Strategic Building Solutions, the Cole project construction management firm. For the first time, and unknown to most of the parties involved, was the inadvertent disclosure by Mr. Whitney that he was simultaneously representing Gilbane on other matters…That seems like a clear conflict of interest. In response to Mr. Winikur’s request for assistance, Whitney replied, “Of course, any time. But please keep in mind, as I told Victor (Mercurio, ex-Superintendent of EG Schools) up front, that we also represent Gilbane.” Also copied on the email was the Building Committee Chair, John Gowell (also a lawyer), who was instrumental in the hiring of Christopher Whitney. Mr. Whitney never disclosed this Gilbane conflict on his required paperwork filed with the town. The EG School Committee legal counsel, Matthew Oliverio was also aware of the conflict, as he was working with Whitney on a Gilbane case at the same time. But he said nothing. 

Our elected officials at the time did nothing to help us. Although Gilbane had repeatedly assured the Town that EG was indemnified from any damages stemming from construction, the Town abandoned the Sarah’s Trace families in court. Having spent a fortune in repairs and legal bills, financially strained and even bankrupt, we left court not knowing if we would ever be able to repair our homes. We were forced to settle under extreme duress. Why were we in court to begin with? Why did the town take the side of the contractors in court when EG was indemnified for any responsibility from the damages? Well, the hiring of Whitney may explain a lot!!

No signed conflict of interest document was ever produced or executed as required by Article V Professional Rules of Professional Conduct: A Lawyer’s Responsibility. We did an APRA request with the town and one was never produced. Not one elected official that I know of was aware of this conflict, but contractors and certain employees knew! Whitney’s engagement letter with the school district isn’t even signed by any EG official!

In 2018 and 2019, after numerous Access to Public Records requests, we wrote the Town Council and EGSC with this evidence. The Town Council balked and responded it was in the jurisdiction of the EG School Committee. The East Greenwich School Committee decided to do a sham investigation, hiring an attorney, James Callaghan. Mr. Callaghan’s investigation was a joke…overlooking key documents, never speaking with Sarah’s Trace residents…nor any School Committee members or Town Council members involved in the construction. So, the School Committee paid Mr. Callahan approximately $2,000 of taxpayer’s money to investigate claims of fraud, but he never speaks with anyone, never interviews anyone, and never produces a written report for the $2,000. However, he did meet with the School Committee in an executive session, which received an Open Meeting Act violation from the R.I. Attorney General for failing to report votes taken at this meeting. 

Finally, in February of 2020, after reviewing the same documents the Town Council and School Committee had been given, two former members of the East Greenwich School Committee came forward and wrote to the current Town Council and EG School Committee members. Former chair of the EGSC Jean Ann Guiliano and Susan Records, both in positions of responsibility for the Cole project at the time, requested a valid independent investigation and implored the Town to compensate the Sarah’s Trace residents for their damages. They both have claimed they were never told of the nefarious Whitney conflict and that the lawyers never followed their instruction to help the Sarahs Trace residents. Both the Town Council and EG School Committee have ignored the requests of these two courageous and conscientious former elected officials who have come forward.

So, now what? Well, since we have confronted both the Town Council and School Committee with our findings and have demanded action, the following has occurred:

  • Current Town Council President Mark Schwager has blocked me personally from his Facebook page, which, as he is a public official, is illegal. A complaint to the RI ACLU is pending on this. 
  • On Oct. 5, two elected officials tried to file harassment complaints against me with the EG Police, tired of the continuing pressure coming from Sarah’s Trace neighbors. No charges were brought. According to the police report, their complaints never showed an actual threat and the behavior was more along the lines of a constituent unhappy with the elected officials. I’m fighting for my family’s home!
  • On Oct. 15, School Committee Chair Anne Musella tried to silence me by limiting my public comments to five minutes, however no limit was published on the meeting agenda. Furious at my refusal to limit my remarks to five minutes, she threatened to have me removed from the meeting and made a motion to suspend the meeting, but her motion to do so was not supported by the majority of the Committee. So, in a flourish, Musella stormed out of the meeting. Immature beyond words. Happily, she is not running for reelection. 
  • And here’s the best part… Now we find out the current School Committee has re-hired the same firm, Strategic Building Solutions, now known as Colliers Project Leaders, to begin planning for the next school “improvements” in several EG neighborhood schools. Same wolf, same sheep’s clothing. 

So, we will continue to pressure the town to do the right thing…pay for our home repairs. That’s it. No more, but no less. Ignore us if you like. Defame us if you must. Try to shut us up if you can. But we are not going anywhere…thanks to EG officials, past and present, we are stuck in damaged homes that need more work and will be hard to sell at a fair price.

We expect the “flak” to continue. It’s what happens when you get close to the target. Election season is upon us. Be careful with your vote, EG. Ask questions. Demand responses. Expect accountability. Don’t back down. Flak hits from the target once in a while. You could be next. Be very, very careful. 

On behalf of the Families of Sarah’s Trace,
Christopher J. Lamendola, 50 Sarah’s Trace

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Fred Mason
Fred Mason
October 26, 2022 1:54 pm

This is a travesty that must be corrected NOW!

Lisa Holley
Lisa Holley
October 26, 2022 4:15 pm

Anyone who has lived in town for some time (excepting all the new COVID residents-2020 forward) knows the character and integrity of the Lamendola and Gammons families. They have lived in East Greenwich for generations. Chris and his wife Sue have volunteered in our schools, have coached our children in sports, manned the concession stands at Eldredge and the High School. During COVID, Chris totally retooled his company’s manufacturing process to make hand sanitizer and gave thousands of bottles to our police, fire, town employees, Shoreside residents and St. Elizabeth Home at no cost.

This is who Chris Lamendola and his family are, and what they are all about.

They and their neighbors have gone through an ordeal that no family should have to withstand. Their houses are literally crumbling from ceiling to foundation, due to the construction of the new Cole Middle School. Their once beautiful homes have no resale value; they are literally stuck.

What is maddening to me is seeing residents and elected officials who refuse to acknowledge the wrong done to this family.

I have taken note of these elected officials, candidates and their spouses and surrogates and I am sharing those names with all my EG friends, family and neighbors and asking that they not cast a vote for those officials and candidates.

I would urge your readers to do the same.

Kathy C
Kathy C
October 27, 2022 7:39 am

Well said Lisa Holley! Chris, why weren’t the results/findings of Callaghan’s investigation made public or at the very least made known to you, the Hogans, and Amelottes?

Chris Lamendola
Chris Lamendola
October 27, 2022 10:22 am
Reply to  Kathy C

Kathy no report was EVER generated fot the $2000! No report, no interviews of anyone involved and SC attorney Lombardo say it was thorough! Just a paper review to get rid of us! Was this the same case eith other recent investigation by the EGSC? Curious!

October 28, 2022 10:05 am

I also posted on E. McNamara’s story, I feel I need to comment on both.

I am an old-time resident of East Greenwich and I don’t usually opine but in this situation, I am compelled to speak out. I go back beyond Town Council President Marion Fry era and before (She was the first woman to be TC President in East Greenwich and her picture can be found in Town Hall). Such an honest person with such integrity.

I read this story and have one word comes to mind, INJUSTICE.

If read this story and all I get is a pit in my stomach and reflux in my mouth. How can three homes be destroyed in our town, EG, on a project controlled by our elected officials? Upon reading the current and past stories on this saga, to say in the least that the “Town” and I mean all entities don’t have any culpability in what has transpired is dishonest at the least. I have not heard one elected official say that these residents of Sarah’s Trace don’t have damage to their homes. I have also not read or heard and I believe is a relevant question, why did the Town and it surrogates take the side of the contractors in court? Where is that answer? Where in God’s green earth were our elected officials? To deny that these residents weren’t abandoned by the town is beyond belief. I can’t believe that our elected officials have let it get to this point. I find it rather disgusting and disgraceful. Let’s be honest, who moves to our town to have their home destroyed by construction project, controlled by the town, and then be forced to go to court while the town officials take the side of the contractors, and to hear the Town was indemnified, and took that tact is beyond belief, but is obviously true or they would have already denied it!

I watch on national news the hurricane in Florida that devasted the west coast towns on the gulf coast in horror, their homes totally destroyed. Homes destroyed not of their own doing! What gives me solace is the response of the citizens and government agencies who come to the rescue of these poor people, to help innocent citizens recover. They rally for their neighbors and community without any bickering?

I looked back and see Michael Issacs was Town Council President and Mark Schwager was on the Council at this time. I am shocked at their silence on this issue! I read two former School Committee members have the courage and integrity to come forward to right this injustice only to meet political resistance. Who would want their home to be destroyed and not compensated? Be honest. Here comes the pit in my stomach again.

What has happened to East Greenwich? Miss Fry is rolling over in her grave!

October 28, 2022 11:35 am

So here’s the town we all live in now, here’s the way it goes by our elected officials both the Town Council. & School Committee…

1. It’s apparently (based on the Sarah’s Trace homeowners) ok for now any proposed town construction project to destroy area homes because it’s easier to sacrifice the few for the glory of saying “look at the school we built”… that’s NOT OK! By the way the potential new school being proposed by our current School Committee is hiring the same exact company led by same project directors (now reconfigured under a new name). So, a word to the potential future EG residents in say a 1/4 mile radius of any new school construction, be ready for having the vibratory rollers, shake your homes, crack your foundations, separate your chimneys , crack your windows, separate your walls, crack your pools, etc and create a hell for you and your families!

2. It’s OK for our elected officials to ignore the truth of the misrepresentation and travesty of what occurred during legal proceedings. The proceedings that DID NOT compensate the homeowners for damages, only for a “nuisance finding settlement. The homeowners all actually lost not only any compensation for fixing damages to their houses, but the homeowners had to turn around to pay not only their own legal fees but the court costs for the other side and our town officials and school committee now seem to say, “too bad, so sad … what’s done is done in our courts” …..we can’t help you even though the truth is known.

But once again they all are knowledgable of what occurred in court, to these homeowners and they could as a town do what’s right, to bring action against their former representation, to do what’s right, for the townspeople whom they have shunned and now are hoping will go away! This is NOT OK! Do the right thing EG!

3. It’s easy for all of us to read all of this Sarah’s Trace Homeowners Saga as it’s been termed, and say “ well it’s not in my backyard and thank goodness it’s not my home or business they destroyed, I feel so bad for these people” and then go about your day … but this mess goes to a higher issue. Is this the type of town we have become ? Do we ignore the truth, and we play a shell game legally, do we try to shun the affected, do we censor their standing up for their rights and what was done to their homes? We ethically, and morally as town officials and school committee members, do nothing because it might mean we have to admit during an election year of a wrong doing … This is just plain WRONG ! This is not what the citizenry of EG or any town should see and experience from those charged with doing the right thing for both their towns and the people who elect them!!

We should all remember this wrongdoing and think about the ethics of whom you vote for. IS this who you want to have manage our town and next school project? Your home or business could be sacrificed as simply be the next collateral damage from the next EG school construction project. So think long and hard about just how wrong this is. Perhaps start asking questions of our elected officials now in office. Sadly you will probably get a “on advice of counsel, I cannot
comment” reply … so much for full transparency! I as well as other citizens of EG now ask the town to as requested, DO THE RIGHT THING by making these homeowners whole, pay what it’s going to take to repair the severe damages you know were caused to their homes. EG residents we should all be ashamed and more importantly alarmed, that this is the way our elected officials now think it’s OK, to treat residents and ignore resulting damages caused to their homes, this is NOT OK! There has to be a viable way to financially compensate them to repair the damages caused, we call upon you to DO THE RIGHT THING.

October 28, 2022 8:32 pm

Thank you EgAttorney, whoever you are! You have restored a sliver of my faith in attorneys and EG citizens. I am appalled by some of the comments of my fellow EG community dwellers. I would call them neighbors, but I would first have to remove the knife they have plunged into our backs.

These former school committee members that came forward have demonstrated an amazing commitment to the oath they took when earned their role. They tried to advocate for us at the time and were silenced by their own hired representatives and appointed volunteers. And now they are being silenced by the current school committee, blindly following the advice of their lawyer (heck, half of them are lawyers anyway). It is so sad that the current school committee will not live up to that same oath. I guess the law is not about the finding out the truth but finding out what you can get away with.

This didn’t happen on their watch. What are we to believe, that if this happened on the next bond, they would do differently? Why would anyone trust that? Sadly, we don’t have to look to far to see what happens when you have a culture of looking the other way when only a few people are being hurt. What else would they look the other way on? There is a saying, “you only need to make one deal with the devil.” Once you sell your soul the first time, you are forever compromised.

Good people make mistakes. We are not trying to rake anybody over the coals. But even honest mistakes have consequences. We have suffered the consequences of those mistakes so the entire town could enjoy a new school. Asking for an investigation is entirely reasonable. I read comments that there already was an investigation, which is true. But did you realize that the investigation was designed and overseen by one of the people named in the allegations? They literally got to design the investigation of themselves. So you can easily guess what the result was…nothing to see here. In fact, the statement that came out was not that there was no wrongdoing. The statement was carefully crafted to say that the recommendation was not to pursue the matter. If that doesn’t sound suspicious…

Joe Fairminded
Joe Fairminded
November 2, 2022 7:04 pm

When we read an opinion laced with hyperbole and inflammatory accusations like “political cover-up” and “outrageous decision by the judge”, we have to peel the onion and question the veracity.

Let’s use common sense. You’ve been living in the house for over ten years since the new middle school was constructed. After your case was already adjudicated by a judge and jury, our spidey sense tells us that if you had a legitimate case, then you’d approach this problem through more traditional channels instead of trying to bully and intimidate the school committee. Also, your house is not damaged to the point where it’s even remotely uninhabitable, otherwise it would have been condemned.

That two female school committee members felt threatened and intimidated enough by you to go to the EG police says much about your tactics. You talk volumes about wanting your EG neighbors to stand up to support your cause, yet you let this situation devolve to the point that these school committee members, your neighbors, elected volunteers, feared for their safety?

Believing that taking flak now is positive is a misread. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider this battle. What looks like flak is really part of the plane disintegrating, along with your argument.

Chris Lamendola
Chris Lamendola
November 8, 2022 10:05 am

Mr. Fair-minded, what a joke of an alias, you are the definition of a coward. Such strong language without any factual basis, you are an insider and possibly involved in the fraud and yes, coverup and do not have the intestinal fortitude to use your real name. How adult like!

Fact is the EG police twice say there is no evidence of harassment, so nice try. If officials don’t like a constituent to petition their government for redress, maybe they shouldn’t be elected officials. It is part of the gig!

Your childish spidey sense should tell you that fraud is a big deal. You have no idea what type of damage my house, as well as my neighbor’s houses have, so how can you be such an expert? FYI, it’s our government, both TC and SC, that need to hold those responsible for the fraud and damage, it’s part of their duty and oath!

So they better get used to being called out, cause we are NOT giving up and will continue to take flak from you and others!…and you conveniently never mention the 2 former members in charge of the project who say they want an investigation.

Yes we will continue to peel the onion cause it stinks just like you hiding your identity!!

Joe Fairminded
Joe Fairminded
November 9, 2022 3:19 pm

Chris, we can go ‘round and ‘round, but at some point the discussion becomes fruitless. In your rebuttal you continue to omit the most relevant facts.

Regardless of what the EG police say, and even if your intention was not to intimidate, two elected female volunteers on the EGSC felt threatened enough by your tactics to go to the police. This is troubling and frankly bizarre that you think this sort of bullying is an effective tactic.

Keep in mind EG voters want the EGSC to follow their primary mission, which is to engage in supporting and improving the EG school system for our children, not invest additional time re-prosecuting a claim that you already pursued in court. That’s not the charter of the EGSC.

As far as the two former EGSC members requesting that the investigation is reopened, that’s not their charter either and they have no authority to do so. Adding these folks to the mix is another pointless distraction.

And regarding my identity, you’ve already called me “a coward” with a “joke of an alias”, yet you still can’t understand why I don’t publicize my name? I’m not an elected official nor do I want to deal with the flak you dish out. I have no horse in this race at all, other than as an EG resident who thinks it’s important to point out how you’re trying to pressure the SC to appropriate $6M of taxpayer funds to build three new houses, for which they have no authority.

You should reassess the battles you choose. Plenty of companies will replace old windows and doors that have failed because of a settled foundation or some other construction-related reason. And they’ll do it at a fraction of the cost you’ve already incurred pursuing a beef that’s already been through the legal system.


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