Christmas Tree Discord Leads to Recreation Resignations

After a month of stress and conflict between Tiverton’s recreation commission, the Town Council, and Town Administrator Matt Wojcik, the annual Christmas Tree lighting sparked a flameout, which was promptly followed by the resignation of four of the commission’s six members.

With the resignation of Recreation Coordinator Keith Cory effective September 30, the events of the holiday season — a Halloween “trunk or treat” event and a Christmas tree lighting — fell on the volunteers.  Some changes to the Christmas event appear to have contradicted the expectations of Town Council President Denise deMedeiros and Fire Chief Robert Lloyd, and the town administrator’s attempts to put Recreation Chairwoman Susan Gill on track hit a sour note.

On October 29, Gill sent an email to deMedeiros asking what role she would like to play.  A package of notes and documents that Gill submitted to the council during a regular meeting on December 14 indicates that the council president never replied.  Planning for the event, scheduled for December 5, continued through November until, on the 18th, the administrator emailed Gill asserting that “as a general matter my requests and interactions are not meant as suggestions,” and that the Recreation Commission should have sought approval from the council for changes to the tradition.  He instructed the commission “to STOP and START OVER” planning to include deMedeiros and Lloyd.

A follow-up email from Wojcik stated that deMedeiros and Lloyd felt “slighted.”  “There are some ruffled feathers here,” he wrote, “so everything going forward is under a microscope.”  According to Gill’s documentation, at 8:38 a.m. the following morning, she sent deMedeiros an apologetic email with promises to work with her as well as to notate her involvement so future commission members would know about it well in advance.

Apparently as Gill prepared a similar note to Chief Lloyd, Wojcik was writing the following, sent at 9:06 a.m.:

As of about 8:30 last night, you had not reached out to Denise.  If there has been no attempt at this point to work this out with her you are forcing my hand.  I am furious that you cannot seem to get this done.  I am in meetings up to my ears today and do not have time to shepherd you to a diplomatic solution.  If I have no assurances from you that you have tried to work things out with the Council president, I will be stuck with embarrassing virtually everyone, including myself, over this tree lighting.  Please prevent that from happening – last request.

Learning that an email had just been sent, Wojcik requested Gill to follow up with a phone call to deMedeiros.  Less than an hour later, his administrative assistant sent Gill an email saying, “I need to know if/when you called Denise deMedeiros.”

Appearing before the council on December 14, Gill expressed unhappiness that she and the Recreation Commission had been “chastised publicly” and that none of the town officials with whom she sought to resolve the problems had responded to her.  Of Wojcik’s email quoted above, Gill said that, “as an employee, I would have been offended at [it]; as a volunteer that was one of the final straws.”

However, the content at the prior Town Council meeting had been the last straw. The most contentious moment in the November 23 meeting had to do with Gill’s absence from that meeting, about which deMedeiros said toward the end of the discussion about the event, “It would be nice if Susan came and explained some of this to us.  I think one of the reasons why Susan’s not here is because she was questioned about this event, and I find that not acceptable.  OK.  I’m going to continue on because…”

Council Member Brett Pelletier began to say something, and deMedeiros interjected that he didn’t want to “get her going,” to which Pelletier replied, “I don’t want to get you going?”

“Can we just go on?” deMedeiros asked.

“No,” Pelletier responded. “You don’t get to ring and run.”

“OK, go, Brett.”

“No, you don’t rule the place.   Your premise is that you can say something vaguely insulting and then just end the conversation.”

At that point deMedeiros asked to move on, and the solicitor suggested that they should stick to the agenda.

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Justin KatzJustin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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