East Greenwich has gone from utter chaos to truly bizarre.
Amid the Town Council’s clumsy and raucous attempt to reduce the size of local government without consulting its citizenry, an anonymous activist group bearing similar branding to the Council’s efforts has emerged and offered to host a kind of community event. In North Kingstown.
“We know it’s not EG..but it’s free!” said the Our Town One Town EG Facebook event, in a perhaps unintended nod to the group’s concern for money over community.
And that might not be the strangest aspect of this event.
It was billed as a fundraiser for Citizens Who Care, an alcohol and drug abuse awareness group. But it was also billed as “BYOB” (bring your own beer).
And no one from CWC was consulted about the effort. In fact, board members said they found about it on social media.
In a formal letter, CWC declined to accept funds from the anonymous group.
To the Organizers:
We thank you for kind offer of holding a fundraiser for Citizens Who Care EG. However at this time we will not accept any donations from your group. The following are reasons we are declining:
1) At no time did Our Town One Town EG consult with the CWC board or Bob Houghtaling. We as the board only found out about this group through Facebook and were never asked for our opinion or advice and neither was Mr. Houghtaling. We are unsure of who founded this group and we are not clear as to it’s mission statement.
2) As you should know, Mr. Houghtaling runs the Youth to Youth conference at Bryant College from July 28-31 and will not be available. Also many of our board members are volunteering for Youth to Youth and also will not be available. Youth to Youth has been very important in bringing teens together to strengthen life skills and participate in group activities that are helpful for their future development. Youth to Youth International
3) Finally and disturbingly this event was originally touted as a BYOB event which is contrary to CWC’s core. That mention has been since removed but the idea that an event allowing drinking for benefit of a drug prevention group goes against our mission.
At this time we respectfully decline your fundraiser and we will also decline any funds from your group. We wish you the best for your future endeavors and hope another worthy group will benefit from your generosity.
The board of Citizens Who Care EG
It’s unclear if the event will still be held, or if another group might be selected to honor. As of publication of this post, the group had not yet publicly responded to the letter. Citizens Who Care is closely aligned with town drug counselor Bob Houghtaling, who is unsure if his 33-year job with the town is safe or on the chopping block.
Meanwhile, residents can’t ascertain who is behind the Our Town One Town EG group, or even if it is a new part of local government. One woman asked of the Facebook page, “Is this an official town council/school council effort? Who is organizing this effort and what are the goals? Is there decision making opportunities and who would be making them? Can you clarify?”
To which the page administrator wrote, “see the ‘about’ section for answers to all of your questions.” The About page says, “In collaboration with East Greenwich residents, town government, local organizations and the school district, we will foster relationships and opportunities that will strengthen and empower our community to move forward.”
The new group comes on the scene as the Town Council attempts to shrink the size of local government. The elected officials presided over a contentious budget season that kept residents out of the process and surprised the school committee late in the process by suggesting Gayle Corrigan audit its books. Immediately after a budget was approved, popular Town Manager Tom Coyle was dismissed and replaced with Corrigan.
Potential US Senate candidate and EG resident Bob Flanders told RI Future he spoke with Cienki about the town working with Corrigan before the school committee knew the council wanted the audit. Cienki has been active in Flanders burgeoning campaign, serving on the host committee for a recent fundraiser. Corrigan and Flanders are close personal friends and former colleagues in Central Falls’ bankruptcy case, when Flanders infamously offered public sector employees “a haircut or a beheading.”
As such, the four public sector labor unions in East Greenwich – teachers, fire fighters, police and municipal workers – are braced for a war with Corrigan and the conservative Town Council. Corrigan has already terminated several Town Hall employees, some who say they found out through the media. New employees were hired as well, several of whom have previous relationships with Corrigan.
The Town Council had to cancel a recent meeting because union members and residents were so dismayed about the rash of surprise changes. Town Council President Sue Cienki yelled at members of the audience, then canceled the meeting with proposed school district consolidations remaining in legal limbo.
With citizens and employees unable to get answers from the council, and few if any outside the Council and Corrigan knowing what to expect next, the rancor has increased in this otherwise staid suburb. Last week, residents floated the idea of boycotting Town Councilor Nino Grananterio’s local liquor store – a notion that rattled East Greenwich’s sense of fairness and free market principles.
This week, dramatic and surprise reductions were made, by Corrigan not the Town Council, to the municipal court. Town employees say Corrigan, who was out of the office in Russia last week and is still also overseeing the Central Coventry Fire District, is working on a second audit of East Greenwich town government and they expect more layoffs within the next six weeks.