EAST PROVIDENCE — The third man in the ring as it were, Attorney Michael Ursillo, has added his perspective on what can only be described as a testy in-person meeting held recently between State Police Superintendent Steven O’Donnell and East Providence City Manager Peter Graczykowski.
Mr. Ursillo, who attended the aforementioned Aug. 26 gathering at the request of Mr. Graczykowski, offered up his take on the matter during a phone interview Thursday, Oct. 17. The conversation occurred following the publication of a story at The Post’s website, eastbayri.com, detailing a letter Col. O’Donnell sent to City Council President James Briden.
The colonel described his interaction with Mr. Graczykowski from said meeting and through email exchanges between Aug. 22 and 26 concerning two separate incidents. The first was the possible existence of a State Police investigation into a city employee and the second was the seemingly increased presence of troopers in city around Labor Day.
“There’s obviously no love lost between the city manager and the colonel,” Mr. Ursillo said. “The colonel wasn’t happy. Peter wasn’t happy. I don’t know if I was there to be the referee but he asked me to sit in on the meeting, and I just want to reaffirm when the colonel asked a question, Peter answered.”
Mr. Graczykowski said he requested Mr. Ursillo’s presence at the forum because since becoming city manager he has relied on the latter for advice in many instances involving public safety.
“(Attorney) Ursillo was on hand throughout related matters and present during the meeting inaccurately described in the correspondence in question,” Mr. Graczykowski wrote in an email prior to the story’s publication.
Col. O’Donnell, in his letter, questioned why Mr. Ursillo was in attendance.
“I asked Attorney Ursillo the capacity for which he was there. He was animated in his response that he was not representing Mr. Graczykowski personally, but that he represents other municipalities, and lends guidance to Mr. Graczykowski in public safety matters,” Col. O’Donnell wrote.
Mr. Ursillo continued to explain over the phone Thursday, “I just want to reiterate Peter cooperated fully. When the State Police wanted to talk to him. He did. When they wanted to tape the conversation, he asked me to be present, and so I went to the meeting. I think Peter just wants the residents of the city to know that he went out of his way to be very open and truthful and is in no way hiding anything or has he hindered any investigation.”
The Colonel didn’t mince many words in his correspondence to Mr. Briden, basically calling Mr. Graczykowski incapable and untrustworthy on matters of public safety.
In concluding his letter to Mr. Briden, Col. O’Donnell wrote, “It is concerning that the leader of the City of East Providence does not see the value, nor appreciate the support that we bring to cities and towns. Based on the totality of the circumstance from Friday to present, including emails, meetings, his conversations with the media, we would never brief him on a confidential matter. Everything we do must be based on trust and need to know. Unfortunately, Mr. Graczykowski’s actions do not warrant either.”
Asked for a follow-up comment Thursday, Col. O’Donnell said, “My letter is fully accurate and speaks for itself. The meeting was attended and witnessed by my legal counsel and two members of my Command Staff.”
In his defense, Mr. Graczykowski said in both an email exchange and in a phone conversation Oct. 17 with The Post that Col. O’Donnell had “mischaracterized” much of the meeting. At one point, Col. O’Donnell quoted the City Manager as saying, “stop the threats,” when the Superintendent questioned Mr. Graczykowski’s alleged interference in an on-going investigation.
Col. O’Donnell wrote, “Mr. Graczykowski’s responses and demeanor at the meeting were equally troubling to me. He informed me that I could ‘stop with the threats’ and many times attempted to talk over me and interrupted me mid-sentence.”
For his part, Mr. Graczykowski pointed to the quotation as proof of Col. O’Donnell’s demeanor throughout their sit-down.
“It’s there in the letter. I felt threatened,” Mr. Graczykowski said Thursday morning of the atmosphere surrounding the meeting. “Col. O’Donnell is a bully. I was standing up to him and he didn’t like that.”
While not going so far as to say the tone of the gathering was threatening, Mr. Ursillo said the atmosphere was definitely uncomfortable.
“It wasn’t a nice little pleasant, kumbayah meeting. That’s for sure,” Mr. Ursillo said of the encounter.
“It was a little on the intimidating side,” he continued. “The colonel made very clear he had jurisdiction over the entire state. He asserted the fact that he had jurisdiction and the State Police could move freely in any community without telling a town manager or a city manager about it. It was the position of the colonel that is was none of Peter’s business. The colonel made that very clear.”
Later in the day, Mr. Ursillo followed up with the following comment, “Although differences of opinion were exchanged and the parties were forthright with one another, the city manager responded to all the issues directed at him in a cooperative, courteous and professional manner. It was not an easy meeting for either of the parties, but it provided both with an opportunity to air their perspectives concerning the recent events involving State Police investigations in the city. As a result, it is my opinion that there exists a better understanding of the respective roles to be played by each party.”