EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) — A Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday the East Greenwich Town Council violated open meetings law when appointing its town manager, invalidating her appointment and reinstating a firefighter she had fired.
“The court finds that the town’s appointment process and notification to members of the town about the appointment process misled the people of East Greenwich,” Judge Susan McGuirl said in court as she handed down her decision.
McGuirl also said the town manager, Gayle Corrigan, should not have fired firefighter James Perry from his job at the East Greenwich Fire Department, and ordered him reinstated.
The decision was the culmination of a five day bench trial in a lawsuit filed by the East Greenwich firefighters’ union and Perry against Corrigan, town finance director Linda Dykeman and the East Greenwich Town Council.
McGuirl determined the council violated the state open meetings law when it appointed Corrigan acting town manager in June, and again when it made the appointment permanent in July, because the council did not notify the public in advance of the closed-door meeting.
Good government group Common Cause RI weighed in on the importance of the decision on Twitter:
“The town’s efforts were designed to secure Corrigan’s appointment as town manager and minimize public opposition,” McGuirl wrote in a 74-page decision. She declared the appointments made at the June and July meetings “null and void.”
The town council has already scheduled a meeting for Nov. 14 to vote on appointing Corrigan once again.
McGuirl also ruled there was “no valid basis” to fire James Perry, the brother of the firefighters’ union president, back in August. Perry said he discovered he had been fired after his brother received a late-night email notifying him of Perry’s termination.
Corrigan testified during the trial that Perry was fired because he lied on his resume, an assertion the judge rejected.
“FF Perry did not lie,” McGuirl wrote. “FF Perry did not misrepresent anything.”
Perry, who was sitting in the courtroom, smiled when the judge announced he would be reinstated as a firefighter.
“The judge saw that I didn’t lie, and justice prevailed today as far as I’m concerned,” Perry said in an interview with Eyewitness News after the decision. “I’ll hopefully be back to work very soon.”
Corrigan declined to comment after the decision, but Town Council President Sue Cienki, who is named in the lawsuit, sent a statement in response:
“We are extremely disappointed in the court’s decision. We firmly believe in responsible and transparent government, and we were not aware of any compliance issues until today’s ruling. Any violations of the Open Meetings Act were inadvertent. Moving forward, we will take all necessary measures to ensure our legislative process is fully compliant.
Today’s decision will not deter or distract us from continuing to push for a more accountable, professional, and fiscally sound Town government. We have scheduled a Town Council meeting for Tuesday, November 14th to address the court’s decision and ratify all Town actions that have taken place since June 19, 2017.”
An agenda posted online for the meeting says the council will be voting to appoint Corrigan town manager.