Says He Lost Confidence in Former Town Manager Coyle After June 5 Presentation by Corrigan, Dykeman
In an effort to explain why then-consultant Gayle Corrigan was chosen to serve as acting town manager following former Town Manager Tom Coyle’s “separation” from the town, Town Council Vice President Sean Todd testified Tuesday that the town was in chaos and a manager needed to be hired immediately so there would be someone to fill the role of emergency management director. Coyle had previously filled that role.
Todd was called by the town’s lawyer to testify in the trial of the Town of East Greenwich versus EG firefighters and James Perry, to shed some light on what happened during the Town Council executive session June 19 when Coyle’s separation and Corrigan’s hire were approved, and immediately after that, when the council went back into open session. There is no formal record of that open session portion of the meeting. D’Agostino had taken minutes during the executive session portion of the meeting but not during the brief open session that followed.
Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl had chastised D’Agostino at an earlier court session, questioning why the votes on Coyle and Corrigan had not been taken in open session, as is required by state law, as well as calling into question the town’s failure to have minutes from the open session part of the meeting.
“The reason we voted in closed session is we wanted to protect the privacy of Mr. Coyle. That’s why we have a town solicitor, because I’m not a lawyer, I’m a salesman,” Councilman Todd said Tuesday.
He said it was important to appoint someone to serve as town manager right away and that Council President Sue Cienki had already broached the idea to Corrigan, who was receptive. Todd noted his first-hand experience of the events on Sept. 11, 2001 – he lived in New Jersey at the time and said he saw the Twin Towers fall – which made him recognize the importance of never being without an EMA director.
“It was the scariest day of my life,” Todd said referring to Sept. 11. “I saw chaos in real time so I was adamantly not going to allow us to leave that session until we had someone else in charge.”
He continued, “God forbid something awful happened in town…. That’s why we named her at that point.”
Later, when cross-examined by the firefighter’s lawyer, Elizabeth Wiens, Todd admitted he was not aware the town had deputy EMA directors. (Public Works employees Wayne Pimental and Fred Gomes are the town’s two deputy EMA directors, for which they each receive a stipend.)
Beyond making sure there was an EMA director in place, Todd said he was comfortable appointing Corrigan to serve as acting town manager: “Ms. Corrigan was intimately involved in town matters at this point. We knew her history running towns. I felt it was appropriate to appoint her town manager.”
When asked if there were other candidates for the job, Todd said Cienki told him she’d mentioned the position to Public Works Director Joe Duarte and that he had not been interested.
The vote to appoint a new town manager, acting or otherwise, was not on the agenda for the June 19 meeting.
Todd said the council did not know that Coyle would be separating from the town on June 19.
Lawyer Wiens and Judge McGuirl both pressed him on this, with Wiens reading from the separation agreement itself, which several parties agree was presented to the Town Council and voted on unchanged at the June 19 meeting.
“If the Town Council did not ratify this settlement agreement, Mr. Coyle would be terminated ‘as if a termination took place,’ said Wiens, quoting from the agreement. “He was going to be gone June 18 one way or the other.”
Todd insisted the council didn’t know Coyle was leaving when they met June 19. He admitted that Coyle had wanted to keep his job.
“I think Mr. Coyle is a tremendous individual. He’s also said privately he’s not a finance guy,” Todd said.
Todd said the writing was on the wall for Coyle at the June 5 Town Council meeting where Corrigan and her colleague Linda Dykeman – as the consulting firm Providence Analytics – made a presentation about the town’s finances.
“My belief is when he saw the presentation … knowing that the town was heading towards a fiscal mess,” said Todd said of Coyle. “My comfort level with him as our town manager after seeing that presentation was diminished.”
During testimony Tuesday, D’Agostino also sought to submit draft minutes for the June 19 meeting.
“Where are these from? Didn’t we have testimony a number of times that there are no minutes?” said Judge McGuirl, expressing frustration.
“I asked the clerk to produce open session meeting minutes from the June 19 meeting,” D’Agostino responded. “As the court is aware, I conceded on behalf of the town that no open session meeting minutes from June 19 existed. I asked the clerk to prepare – “
“I object,” said Wiens.
“I agree,” said McGuirl. “We’ve been through this Mr. D’Agostino. You can’t testify. You’re the lawyer. You’re suggesting to me that [the town clerk is] presenting these minutes? She wasn’t there. We just heard that over and over again.”
“It is the clerk’s job – “ D’Agostino started to say.
“And she should have been there to do it,” McGuirl retorted. “She wasn’t there. She didn’t do it. So, these are really your minutes that you’re just presenting.”
“She prepared them,” D’Agostino said, referring to Town Clerk Carney.
“Then you can bring her in to testify,” said the judge. “I”m not taking that testimony from you.”
D’Agostino said it was important to “close the circle” by producing these minutes.
“The fact that the meeting minutes do not exist is an OMA [Open Meetings Act] violation, but the council has the ability to cure the OMA violation,” he said.
“It may be important to the Town Council … that is not the same significance to me as testimony in this hearing,” McGuirl said.
In her cross-examination, Wiens asked Todd why the town clerk had been dismissed by Council President Cienki before the executive session meeting June 16, which contained the same single executive session agenda.
“Why didn’t she want to have the town clerk take the minutes?” Wiens asked.
“In my opinion, we think … information was getting to the employees of the town so we wanted to make sure that, due to respect for Mr. Coyle – who we all have an immense amount of respect for – we wanted the conversations to be as closed as possible with the least amount of ears listening so that the separation was as favorable for him as the town and taxpayers,” said Todd.
“You were concerned that the Town Clerk would not maintain the confidentiality of the meeting?” asked Wiens.
“That’s correct,” replied Todd.
“But then on June 19, you were mad she wasn’t there, right?” Wiens continued.
“Because it’s her duty to show up at these meetings,” replied Todd.
The judge heard additional testimony by Andrew Deutsch Tuesday afternoon before closing the trial to more testimony.
– Elizabeth F. McNamara
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