The Town Council waded into one of the trickier issues facing East Greenwich at its meeting Monday night (8/7/17) – parking on Main Street, in particular valet parking. While the challenge may have been a welcome respite from recent meetings where questions of budget and consolidation and resident discontent had dominated, those issues did not disappear. In particular, during public comment, residents continued to question everything from possible open meeting violations to the single bid for consulting services for a firm whose principals ended up with the town manager and town finance director jobs.
But, for a few brief minutes, the Town Council was able to immerse itself in regular town stuff, i.e. parking.
Earlier this year, Councilors Sean Todd and Andy Deutsch had met with restaurant owners and valet parking services to see if they could resolve frequent complaints from both residents and some businesses on Main Street about the valet parking services used by several restaurants on Main Street.
Parking has long been an issue on Main Street. New businesses of any type hoping to open on Main Street must determine if they have enough parking spaces for their clientele or, if not, seek a parking variance. Some restaurants, Besos for instance, has its own lot and plenty of parking. Other restaurants, among them Rasa and Rocco’s, do not have lots. All three eateries rely on valet parking, but where exactly to Rasa and Rocco’s park their cars?
That’s what Todd and Deutsch were hoping to clarify, looking to valet company representatives to produce a map of parking areas for each restaurant. In addition, they want valet workers to wear name tags. There weren’t a lot of answers from the one valet company representative at Monday’s meeting.
During public comment, resident Caryn Corenthal commented that she loved dining on Main Street but was disappointed when she drove up to Rocco’s recently and the valet worker took her car and parked it across the street rather than away from Main Street.
“I could have done that,” she said. “We have definitely a parking problem in East Greenwich. If a restaurant does not have a lot, they shouldn’t have valet. There’s a lot of congestion at a couple of places. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”
After the meeting, Corenthal said she was concerned about restaurants like Frank & John’s pizzeria, which does not use valet parking and relies on having a couple of parking spaces in front for customers who want to pick up pizza to go.
“Some residents have asked us to get rid of valet all together. I’m not in favor of that,” said Todd. “We have to have some kind of plan in place,” he acknowledged.
During council comments, Councilman Mark Schwager again questioned recent council actions, this time, an invoice from consulting firm Providence Analytics for Gayle Corrigan’s town manager services.
“On June 19, the Town Council held an executive session,” he said. ” … We voted 3 to 1 to agree a separation agreement with the current town manager at the time and we also voted 3 to 1 to appoint Gayle Corrigan as the acting town manager. So I was surprised and concerned to see an invoice for town manager services from June 19 … through June 30 from Providence Analytics. It’s unclear how this was billed by Providence Analytics as this was not discussed in executive session. It was also unclear who had the authority to assign payment for these invoices. So, I would like to request these issues be revisited in open session … to clarify these questions.”
The focus remained on the Town Council’s recent actions during public comment, when resident Karen Boegemann called into question the bidding process for the consultant to review the school department’s books. Only one bid was accepted – from Providence Analytics, the company owned and operated by the now-Town Manager Gayle Corrigan and now-Finance Director Linda Dykeman.
Boegemann noted that there were only two bids submitted for the yearly audit so the Town Council asked that the request for proposal (RFP) be recirculated to gain more bids. A third bid was submitted and one company was chosen out of the three.
“That was fair. That’s what we would expect. . . . I’d like to know why there wasn’t another RFP sent out for additional bids to compare [with the Providence Analytics bid]? I don’t understand,” she said.
Boegemann also said Corrigan and Dykeman were involved in a new venture, Lozen Associates, despite Corrigan’s having said in a story here that she was closing out her work involvement with Central Coventry Fire District and would not be seeking any new consulting work. The website includes praise for Dykeman from Christine Spagnoli, who currently works with Linda at the East Greenwich School Department, but is listed on the Lozen website as the finance director for the Town of East Greenwich.
Resident Elizabeth Wiens, a labor lawyer who represents the EG firefighters, said the Town Council had violated the open meetings law at least twice recently. First, she said, the agenda for the Town Council’s executive session on June 19 mentioned a job performance review but did not mention naming a new town manager, as they did that day after accepting former Town Manager Tom Coyle’s “separation” agreement. Wiens also noted that there was no mention of job performance reviews on the agenda for the council’s June 26 executive session, where they voted to lay off three employees.
Resident and EG Farmers Market organizer Tracie Truesdell took Councilman Nino Granatiero to task for alluding to former manager Coyle in his praise of Corrigan’s report to the council.
During Council Comments, Granatiero said, “In the past the town manager’s report lasted about two minutes. It was about how many cats we saved in trees … for the two weeks prior to the meeting. And tonight we heard a lengthy town manager’s report. So, Gayle, thanks digging into some issues … and just in general digging into meaty issues more than in the past.”
“This is tough. We’ve been friendly for close to a decade,” said Truesdell to Granatiero. “You have said you do not want personnel comments. But your last comment – about the previous town manager reporting on getting cats out of trees – I found it extremely disrespectful to his 30 years of service to this town.… and I think you owe this room an apology.”
Granatiero said he would not apologize but did not mean any disrespect.
Meanwhile, Council President Sue Cienki said the council would move ahead with a search process for a permanent town manager. She tasked each council member to come to the next meeting with the name of one person to sit on the search committee. Cienki also said she is committed to retaining public comment at Town Council meetings.
Here’s a videotape of the meeting. EG News will be covering the CDBG issue in a future story. The Town Council meets next on Monday, Aug. 28.
– Elizabeth F. McNamara