As the East Greenwich Town Council considers continuing its relationship with embattled Town Manager Gayle Corrigan, Coventry Republican Party Chairman James Pierson says Corrigan, who is also the executive director of the Central Coventry Fire District, ran a flawed election at the fire district’s annual meeting in September.
“I don’t think she did her job correctly in regards to the Central Coventry annual meeting,” Pierson told RI Future.
“During the election and meeting, several voting irregularities were observed,” he wrote in an October letter to state legislators and CCFD commissioners. “I am writing to ask you to consider actions to correct the election problems described in this email.”
In his letter, Pierson said a master voter list was used that included underaged residents, which led to “approximately eighty-three residents under the age of eighteen appeared in the pollbook,” he wrote. “The plausibility is high that non-qualified residents were able to vote during the CCFD meeting.”
By way of explaining how this could happen, Pierson wrote, “Rhode Island’s voter preregistration law allows teenagers to register to vote if they will turn eighteen prior to the next ‘election’. These people appear in the voter registration database with a ‘pending’ status. The CCFD Clerk, who is tasked with certifying the voter list prior to the annual meeting (under Section 1 of the Charter and Section 2 of the By-laws), failed to remove all the pending voters.”
He told RI Future, “It was [Corrigan’s] job to validate the voter list and that wasn’t done properly.”
Pierson said in the letter that “communication to taxpayers about the annual meeting and election can be described as confusing at best.” He also said there is reason to suspect people may have voted more than once. “Some people observed that the poll workers handed out multiple election ballots to some voters,” he wrote. “Some of the voters attempted to cast the extra ballots, though it’s unknown if any succeeded, and at least one voter even tried to bring a ballot home.”
In East Greenwich, where Corrigan is the town manager, the town council was reprimanded and fined last week by a Superior Court judge for “willfully and knowingly” violating the state Open Meetings Act in hiring Corrigan as town manager, and warned by good government groups today it was in danger of violating the law again in ratifying Corrigan’s past actions tonight.
Pierson said he sees a similar lack of transparency happening at the Central Coventry Fire District.
“The East Greenwich Town Council just got its hand slapped pretty hard,” he said. “Keep an eye out for Central Coventry as well.”
Fire districts are not covered by state Title 17 election laws, according to John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island, who said he was aware of Pierson’s complaint. As such, the election of fire commissioners is not overseen by either the state Board of Elections or local boards of canvassers, as are other elections.
“It’s really just up to the Board of Directors to ensure this doesn’t happen,” Pierson said. There is no record of the recent vote on CCFD’s website.
Pierson is an ally of Coventry Rep. Bobby Nardolillo who is running in the Republican senate primary against Bob Flanders for the right to challenge Democratic incumbent Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Flanders, who is from East Greenwich, told RI Future in June he was an early advocate for Corrigan with East Greenwich Town Council President Sue Cienki, who was on the host committee for one of his campaign events. “Gayle was someone we did talk about, yes,” Flanders told RI Future in June. “We talked about her skill set and what she can bring to the table.”