By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Gayle Corrigan was dismissed as town manager by the Town Council on Saturday, 20 months after she first appeared on the scene in East Greenwich, following an introduction by former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Flanders (an EG resident) to then-Town Council President Sue Cienki.
Corrigan and her partner, Linda Dykeman, were hired as Providence Analytics to review first the schools’ and then the town’s finances in spring 2017. Corrigan came to East Greenwich with a pedigree of sorts in working with municipal entities in bankruptcy, specifically Central Falls in 2011-12 and Central Coventry Fire District (where she remains district manager). In Corrigan and Dykeman’s initial public presentation on town finances in June 2017, she equated East Greenwich to an earlier version of Central Falls.
It was under Corrigan and Dykeman’s blueprint that the Town Council approved a budget June 8, 2017, without the usual vetting in public session, upsetting many in attendance at the meeting and prompting Councilman Mark Schwager (now council president) to cast the first of a number of lone “no” votes that would become his hallmark during the 2016-18 Town Council term.
The 4-1 approved budget gave a tax cut to residents for the first time in decades, but also gave the schools less than half what the School Committee had requested.
The council then got rid of then-Town Manager Tom Coyle and hired Corrigan as acting town manager (with another 4-1 vote, Schwager the no). Days into her appointment as acting town manager, Corrigan fired the town finance director and installed Dykeman in that role, as well as firing the assistant to the town manager and the human resources director. In those initial weeks, Corrigan upended the town’s municipal court, tried to strong-arm consolidation with the school department and took aim at the fire department, particularly the fire chief’s decision to hire six so-called “lateral transfers” in 2016.
She fired one transfer, James Perry (brother of union president Bill Perry), on a Saturday night in August, an action that prompted a lawsuit and an usually speedy trial that saw Perry reinstated, as well as Corrigan’s initial appointment nullified (the Superior Court judge ruled the Town Council had violated the Open Meetings Act when they hired her in June). The loss was the first of a series of public embarrassments for the Town Council, which nonetheless stuck with Corrigan, voting her back in as town manager at a meeting in November before more than 500 residents, the vast majority unhappy to see her reappointed.
She dismissed Fire Chief Russ McGillivray in November, and the first of two interim fire chiefs were hired, both from out of state. Corrigan made the case that the 2016-19 firefighters contract was reckless, pointing to a provision that eliminated “floaters” by moving them to serve as the ninth firefighter on each platoon. The move did result in higher overtime costs, as did a swath of injuries in fiscal year 2018, as well as two vacancies that were left open for months on end. A deal with the union to bring back the floaters last December fell apart, with both sides crying foul, but afterwards members of the council majority said bringing back the floaters would not be enough.
Instead, the town filed suit against the firefighters, with Corrigan urging implementation of a three-platoon, 56-hour work week for the firefighters to reduce overall costs, even as acting fire chief Kevin Robinson said he did not back that plan. The attempt to push the platoon change through during the middle of a contract failed, however, when a Superior Court judge ruled against the town in August.
Corrigan, and East Greenwich, landed in the news again when two complaints against Corrigan filed with the state Ethics Commission were found to have “probable cause.” One accused her of improperly hiring her business partner, Dykeman, as finance director. The other accused her of filing an ethics form late and failing to include $200,000 in compensation on that form. Cienki said she was confident Corrigan would be exonerated once she made her case. Those cases remain pending.
Corrigan was appointed town manager for a third time in June, after an eight-month search for a permanent manager that ended with two candidates: Corrigan and town resident Russell Knight. The council voted 4-1 in favor of Corrigan, who Cienki said had uncovered a number of financial issues and would do the best job negotiating union contracts (all five municipal union contracts are up June 30, 2019).
Campaign season started shortly after that third vote and, of the 10 candidates who ran for Town Council, six campaigned to get rid of Corrigan. Five of those candidates, all Democrats, won Nov. 6, a landmark sweep. The votes for candidates opposed to Corrigan represented 69 percent of votes cast for Town Council.
On Saturday the five winning candidates made good on their campaign promise.
Read more about the past two years in East Greenwich here:
What Is Happening in East Greenwich, and Why? Part 1
What Is Happening in East Greenwich, and Why? Part 2
What Is Happening in East Greenwich, and Why? Part 3
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