R.I. attorney general's office finds Central Coventry board violated Open Meetings Law [The Providence Journal, R.I. :: ]
(Providence Journal (RI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 02--PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The attorney general's office has found that the Central Coventry Fire District Board of Directors violated the state's Open Meetings Law on multiple occasions in the summer and fall of 2013 and has asked the board to explain why the violations it found were not willful.
A willful violation leaves the board, whose members were elected in a special election in June 2013, open to a possible fine of up to $2,000.
The attorney general's office said a review of the fire district board's regular and executive session minutes from 2013 showed that it had, more than once, failed to file meeting minutes within the legally required 21 days, at times failed to give a reason for going into closed session and once, in executive session, discussed matters that should have been in public.
In a letter explaining the findings, Michael W. Field and Malena Lopez Mora, assistant attorneys general, noted in particular the board's decision to go into an Oct. 7, 2013, executive session "to review anything that people went to various meetings for."
"Frankly, convening into executive session for this stated purpose is so astonishingly inappropriate that further discussion is not warranted by this department," Mora and Field said.
The findings were the result of a complaint against the board by Central Coventry firefighters' union president David Gorman and Stephen P. Fay, an unsuccessful candidate for the board. In many instances, no violations were found, either because the claims were unfounded or lacking sufficient evidence.
But the attorney general's office did find that the Central Coventry Board of Directors:
Failed to file minutes for 14 meetings from July to November 2013 within the required three weeks.
Didn't, as required by the law, specify the reasons for going into an executive session at meetings on Sept. 24, 2013, and Oct. 2, 2013.
Used the "astonishingly inappropriate" justification on Oct. 7, 2013, to go into executive session.
Discussed matters in closed session that should have been in open session at four meetings in July and August 2013.
Mora and Fay noted that they were particularly concerned about the board waiting until February to post minutes for meetings on Aug. 18, Oct. 21 and Nov. 13, 2013. The board had been specifically told in a Nov. 4 letter from the attorney general's office that fire districts were bound by the rules of the Open Meetings Law.
The board's ignoring of that directive indicated that the board's failure to post minutes, right around the time it was told it had to, created the possibility that that failure "may have been willful or knowing within the meaning of the OMA [Open Meetings Act]," Mora and Field wrote.
At the time, the Central Coventry Fire District was under control of a state court receiver, and the board argued that it thought that meant it was an agent of the Superior Court and not a public body bound by the Open Meetings Law. The attorney general's office rejected that argument.
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