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New HR investigation into Councilman Correia involves audio recordings

Target 12

Councilman Michael Correia (file photo)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A human resources investigation has been launched following “multiple complaints” about Providence City Councilman Michael Correia, and the evidence being examined includes unreleased audio recordings, according to a city spokesperson.

“There have been multiple complaints against this individual,” city spokesperson Emily Crowell said in an email in response to questions from Target 12. “While we cannot comment on the content of the most recent complaint, I can confirm that HR is in receipt of recordings.”

“Once this was brought to the HR department a full investigation was launched,” Crowell added.

Further details about the investigation are not yet available, though the existence of the recordings has had City Hall abuzz this month.

Correia referred comment to his attorney Artin Coloian, who is being paid by the city to represent the councilman in another matter involving a former DPW official.

“Councilman Correia is the victim here,” Coloian said. “He’s been intercepted by what we consider to be illegal recordings.”

Coloian said he has heard excerpts of the recordings and did not hear any “sanctionable conduct.”

It is not clear who made the recordings. Providence Police and Rhode Island State Police both said they have not received any complaints about recordings that violated Rhode Island’s one-party consent law.

The investigation is the latest one for Correia, who is already the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation and lawsuit initially sparked by text messages regarding Michael McKenna, the former deputy director of the Department of Public Works.

McKenna — who was fired earlier this year — filed both an ethics complaint and lawsuit against Correia last year following a series of text messages where Correia referenced demoting McKenna while requesting waste pickups from the highway superintendent.

The lawsuit claims Correia made false statements for years about McKenna to other city employees, including that he was untrustworthy, lazy and was “illegally discriminating against city employees on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

The coronavirus pandemic has slowed the progress of that civil case, but Coloian recently issued subpoenas to three city employees: City Council deputy chief of staff for communications Billy Kepner, council chief of staff Erlin Rogel, and Providence Human Resources Director Emmanuel Echevarria.

The subpoenas sought “any and all communications between yourself and anyone else relating or referring to Michael Correia from July 1, 2020 to present,” according to court documents. City Solicitor Jeffrey Dana filed objections to the subpoenas on behalf of all three men on Tuesday.

Coloian confirmed he issued the subpoenas to see if there was a connection between the McKenna matter and the new HR complaint and newly uncovered recordings.

Kepner and Rogel both declined to comment on the investigation. Rogel is leaving his job as chief of staff next month for a new job, but said his move was in the works prior to the new Correia matter coming to light and is unrelated.

Coloian added that the city’s human resources department has no jurisdiction over an elected official.

“If a complaint by an employee is received, HR always reviews it for validity and will work to resolve the complaint,” Crowell said in response. “Resolutions to issues depend on the type of complaint filed and allegations.”

Correia is the only sitting councilperson with an HR complaint pending against him, according to the city.

The Democrat has served on the council since 2011 and is barred from running for re-election in 2022 due to term limits.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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