Gayle Corrigan said she didn’t set out to become the town manager of East Greenwich. “That’s not what I was planning,” she told me in an extensive interview earlier this week. “That’s not how I was planning to spend my summer.”
But three chaotic months after being hired for $5,000 to audit the school department’s budget, she’s now the one of the highest paid municipal chief executives in Rhode Island. The East Greenwich Town Council on Monday night dropped the interim from her title and gave her one-year contract worth $184,000, about $45,000 more than the previous town manager earned.
Corrigan and her new $77,000 a year chief of staff, Michaela Antunes, insist the so-called One Town effort is already saving residents – Corrigan calls them taxpayers – money. Antunes, formerly the press secretary to the Providence City Council, effectively replaces a $53,000* a year executive assistant. The human resources director was dismissed and not replaced. But proposed consolidations with the school department remain in limbo. And, when pressed, Corrigan admits the real savings will come on the backs of labor, not management.
“I have a one year contract,” she said. “When you’re doing labor contracts it’s for three years and it’s not about one person it’s about a whole department.”
Corrigan expressed an interest in opening up negotiations with the local fire fighters and police officers, both of whom have contracts extending beyond the 2018 elections. “I’d like to look at it and if that’s the recommendation that would be made to the town council.”
Early in the interview, I asked her a broad question about what, if any, inefficiencies she has already found in East Greenwich and Corrigan quickly zeroed in on fire fighters. “One that has been questioned to me was overtime for firefighters. What happened there, why, what’s going on? I’m still digging into it. I have some ideas but I haven’t finished the analysis.”
She is blunt about her opinions, and does not shy away from tough subjects. “No one was really looking at why we are spending so much money,” she offered. “There was a certain complacency or inertia.”
Over the past five years, Corrigan has become Rhode Island’s go-to person to restructure struggling government budgets. She worked in Central Falls, East Providence and for the Central Coventry Fire District.
In fact, she still oversees the Central Coventry Fire District. She says it won’t conflict with her ability to give EG its money’s worth. While she works about 10 hours a week for Coventry, she plans to work 50 hours a week for East Greenwich. She conceded the town manager’s office won’t have the same open door policy it did under Tom Coyle and Bill Sequino, but says she will spend ample time in the office.
East Greenwich will be her first effort to restructure a government not in crisis, though she and the Town Council have intermittently marketed her efforts as a response to an impending Central Falls-style emergency.
She first learned of the opportunity to consult for East Greenwich through Bob Flanders, an EG resident who was Corrigan’s boss during the Central Falls bankruptcy restructuring. She said Flanders introduced her to Town Council President Sue Cienki in March.
“It was an introduction from Bob Flanders,” Corrigan said. “I think it was in March some time. She had reached out to Bob or however that happened. All I know is Bob called me up one afternoon and said they are talking about a deficit in the East Greenwich school system could you come in and meet Sue Cienki. I said okay I’ll take a look at it.”
Flanders, a former state Supreme Court justice who is considering running for US Senate, previously acknowledged discussing Corrigan with Cienki.
Becoming town manager was not discussed at that time, according to Corrigan. “Absolutely not,” she said. It was not until later on, Corrigan said, that Cienki floated to her the idea of being the town manager.
I asked Corrigan if she would have been more effective to remain as a consultant for East Greenwich, rather than becoming the chief executive.
“It’s a good question,” she said. “In this scenario and what ended up happening I do not think that was the case. If you’re going to try to do this, there has to be responsibility and accountability. You can’t be going like this – it’s what he said, it’s what she said – that’s not effective or efficient and that’s not a good position to be in.”
*Initially, this number was reported as $70,000. Incorrect information was provided by the town.