The East Greenwich Town Council would again violate the state Open Meetings Act if it approves an agenda item that would ratify “all actions taken by Gayle Corrigan as Town Manager from June 19, 2017 – November 14, 2017.”
That’s the opinion of ACCESS/Rhode Island, a consortium of open government groups that sent a letter to each town council member today warning them of the potential violation and asking them to cancel tonight’s meeting.
“This agenda is a quintessential example of how not to be transparent with the public,” said the letter signed by John Marion, executive director of Common Cause RI, and Steven Brown, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island. Both organizations are members of ACCESS/RI. “It is insulting to all the residents of East Greenwich to see the Town Council doubling down on violations of the Open Meetings Act mere days after being found in violation of that statute. That agenda item is a case of the Council thumbing its nose at the public’s right to know what action the Council is taking.”
The East Greenwich Town Council launched this otherwise staid suburb into chaos five months ago when it pushed out Tom Coyle, the popular town manager, and replaced him with Corrigan, a magnet for controversy. The five months since then have been marked by community consternation, unruly meetings, circumvention of state laws, and a bevy of lawsuits relating to Corrigan’s decisions and her own appointment as town manager.
“It is apparent that the Town Council willfully and knowingly violated the OMA,” wrote Judge Susan E. McGuirl in her 73 page opinion. “Based on the compelling and credible evidence before it, this Court finds that the Town’s appointment of the Town Manager misled the public.”
It is unclear if the town council plans to vote on the agenda item tonight, or if it will even hold the meeting. It is equally unclear if the four conservative members of town council remain loyal to Corrigan as there exists a seemingly ever-increasing number of reasons to cut ties with the controversial town manager.
The potential for the Open Meetings Act violation at tonight’s council meeting was first made public by RI Future in a post detailing several elderstatespeople of East Greenwich’s opposition to reappointing Corrigan as town manager. “A separate agenda item calls for the ratification of all actions Corrigan has taken as town manager to date,” RI Future reported yesterday. “Approving this could likely compound the Open Meetings Act complaints that are piling in against the town.”
In an interview, Marion, of Common Cause, said it is unclear if the town council is getting bad legal advice or ignoring good legal advice. “We don’t know what legal advice they have gotten,” he said. “They may have gotten good legal advice and they are ignoring it.”
ACCESS/RI includes the Rhode Island Press Association, the ACLU of Rhode Island, Common Cause Rhode Island, the Rhode Island League of Women Voters, the New England First Amendment Coalition along with journalism professors, television journalists and other First Amendment advocates. The group is “dedicated to ensuring government at all levels be accessible to the public,” it said in a press release on the letter.