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East Greenwich firefighter contract controversy burns hot

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EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) — The two sides of a festering firefighter contract controversy could not be further apart, especially when it comes to how much contract changes are costing taxpayers.

One pegs the number at more than half a million dollars, while the other is confident the contract is a cost-saver.

“This contract saved the town money,” union president Bill Perry said.

But Town Manager Gayle Corrigan has told the town council she found 12 side agreements that are now part of the three-year pact.

“They were not ratified or given public scrutiny,” Corrigan said. “They’re just done in the dark, and they have tremendous financial consequences.” 

A list Corrigan put together covers a variety of topics, including lateral hires from other fire departments, reclassifying sick time as injured on duty and clarification of pay when removing snow.

Perry did not mince words when asked about the claim the agreements were “done in the dark.”

“[Council members] were well aware of all the  agreements,” Perry said. “They are saying this now because they’re in a tough battle since so many people want to flip the council.”

But according to Corrigan, two of the agreements had contract language that she said was never explained to council members will cost taxpayers about $600,000 over the life of the contract..

“The changes were so imbedded it would be very, very difficult for anyone including the town manager or the finance director to actually find it,” Corrigan said.

Corrigan said the “imbedded” language eliminated steps in pay that she claims allows firefighters to reach top pay in two years instead of four.

Perry insists Corrigan is way off in her assessment.

“The $600,000 figure is 1,000 percent false,” Perry said. “It’s just a political narrative they are trying to provide a week before Election Day.”

Corrigan acknowledges she’s seen the political ads aimed at getting rid of the current council, and her.

But she said her concerns are financial, not political.

“This sort of thing put the Central Coventry Fire District into bankruptcy,” Corrigan added. 

As far as questions about why the council members did not find the language by reading it, Corrigan said they depended on the negotiators on both sides to point out the key changes.

Perry said no one should blame the firefighters for that.

“If the solicitor didn’t do his job, I have no power over that,” Perry said. “It’s comical. Why don’t they seek litigation against the solicitor?” 

One point of agreement between the two sides is that taxpayers themselves may decide who they believe more when they vote next week.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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