One of the first things Gayle Corrigan did when she took over as town manager of East Greenwich was replace the finance director with her friend and colleague Linda Dykeman. That isn’t a violation of the state Code of Ethics, she insisted in an interview on Friday, because the Town Council had final say over hiring Dykeman.
“It’s clearly the Council’s call,” Corrigan told me. “That’s my interpretation.”
The state Ethics Commission voted 5-0 to investigate the matter last week. Corrigan said she intends to “cooperate fully with the process.”
At issue is whether Corrigan violated the state law governing ethical conduct by government officials in helping Dykeman, her personal friend and business partner, become the town finance director. During the annual budgeting process this past summer, Corrigan and Dykeman, doing business as Providence Analytics, were hired by the Town Council to audit school then town funding. The audit culminated with a plan that included consolidating the town and school finance directors. It also led, in short order, to the Town Council firing the popular but public sector-friendly town manager and replacing him with Corrigan. Dykeman was hired by the school department and then named town finance director of the town, with the municipal side paying her $127,500 annually including 25 vacation days.
The Code of Ethics law says, “No person subject to this code of ethics shall use in any way his or her public office … to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for him or herself or any person within his or her family, any business associate, or any business by which the person is employed or which the person represents.”
Corrigan recommended hiring Dykeman in executive session to the Town Council, Town Council Vice President Sean Todd testified in court. Corrigan also signed Dykeman’s employment agreement and, according to July 24 meeting minutes, seems to have negotiated the terms.
Corrigan said, “The Charter is very clear that it’s the Council’s decision. The Council has to deal with whatever the Council has to deal with.”
The Town Charter gives both the town manager and the Town Council responsibilities in hiring a finance director. “The Director of Finance shall be appointed by the Town Manager with the approval of the Town Council,” reads section C-91 Department of Finance of the Town Charter.
It’s doesn’t seem the Town Council did vote to hire Dykeman, or to terminate the employee she replaced, which could be another violation of the state Open Meetings Act. To date, the Town Council has already violated the OMA seven times relating to Corrigan’s tenure as town manager.
“I have not been able to find a public recount of any vote,” said Mark Schwager, the lone Democrat on the Town Council. Sue Cienki, the Town Council president, did not return several phone calls and did not respond to questions via text. Two residents who attend most Town Council meetings also don’t recall any public notice or discussion of hiring Dykeman.
I don't remember Ms D's hiring on any agenda
— caryn corenthal (@ccorenthal) January 11, 2018
“At the time [hiring Dykeman] was discussed I raised my concerns that there was at least the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Schwager said. “I was uncomfortable with the process and I raised my objections. Whether or not there was a violation, that will be determined by the Ethics Commission.”