A few short hours after a Superior Court judge effectively rescinded Gayle Corrigan’s appointment as East Greenwich’s town manager – as well as chided and fined the town for violating the state open meetings law and the Town Charter in appointing her to that position – the Town Council posted notice for a November 14 meeting. On that agenda are three items to be voted on: the re-appointment of Corrigan as town manager, renewing her $184,000 a year contract, and ratifying “all actions taken by Gayle Corrigan as Town Manager from July 1, 2017 – November 14.”
Rhode Islanders were stunned at how quickly the Republican-dominated Council had moved to double down on Corrigan, who in her brief tenure has caused unprecedented community consternation, exploding legal fees, increased administration costs, massive strife among first responders and other municipal employees, and absolutely no tax savings whatsoever.
East Greenwich residents, who have been enduring the effects of the Corrigan era for four grueling months now, were less surprised. They have come to expect anything from Corrigan and Town Council President Sue Cienki, who herself is the focus of a separate lawsuit for threatening a fire fighter when she said, “I will cut his balls off and feed them to his dog.”
The Corrigan/Cienki agenda doesn’t seem to be steered by sound legal strategy. Yesterday’s ruling could cost the town as much as $50,000 in legal fees. And the Town Council’s reaction will certainly not be lost on the judges who decide other pending lawsuits from citizens and disgruntled ex-employees. There are still three outstanding Open Meetings Act complaints against the town, as well as a seemingly ever-increasing load of other lawsuits.
Municipal employees say they have been told they can’t talk to the press or the public, and that Corrigan is cc’ed on every email from Town Hall. Some say she refuses to meet with employees if the solicitor or her hand-picked chief of staff are not present. They assume she is constantly preparing for lawsuits against everyone she encounters – including the Town Council.
The Town Council, for its part, has used early Saturday morning meetings and rolling quorums in Corrigan’s office to circumvent the public. Questionable facts and figures are regularly mailed to residents. When the lone Democrat on the Town Council pleaded with his conservative colleagues to stop mailing disinformation to residents, the propaganda started coming from Corrigan instead. In one particularly egregious example, a finance error in the approved budget made it appear as if the fire department cost $1.4 million more than it actually does.
There’s also ample evidence the Corrigan/Cienki approach won’t even save taxpayers money. In Central Falls, Mayor James “Diossa’s aides maintain all of the contracts are equivalent or better deals for the city than the ones reached during its bankruptcy,” WPRI’s Ted Nesi reported in October. Meanwhile it cost Central Falls more than $1million to use Corrigan and her colleague Bob Flanders while in receivership, according to this document obtained through a public records request (Corrigan at the time ran a company called MMS Consulting).
Once a bastion of Reagan-era conservative philosophy, has been inching left in recent years. Residents overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and is now home to more registered Democrats than Republicans. Traditionally, the GOP has been well organized in East Greenwich and the Democrats have not, but the Cienki/Corrigan dynimic has helped flip-flop that.
Moderate Republicans are fleeing their party and Democrats are more organized and energized than ever. Many residents of both political persuasions are openly unnerved by the constant government consternation, and community participation at public meetings is at a modern-day high with the vast majority opposing Corrigan and the Town Council. Meanwhile, hard-core conservative ideologues hold their breath for savings before the next election that may not materialize and, even if they do, it might not matter. The emerging anti-Trump wave in the suburbs may prove more important.
In the meantime, East Greenwich is learning the hard way that, outside of elections, there is little recourse against bad political actors.