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Town of Barrington to Pay $1,000 Fine for Violating Access to Public Records Act

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today announced that the town of Barrington has signed an agreement in which the town acknowledges it violated the state’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA) when it failed to respond in a timely manner to the APRA request of a Barrington resident. Barrington agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for the violation, the maximum fine permitted under APRA. In consideration of the payment and admission of the violation, the case will be dismissed.

The Department of Attorney General sued the town of Barrington in December 2010 seeking declaratory relief against the town for the APRA violation, as well as a civil fine for a “willful and knowing violation” of APRA.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jeff Black, a Barrington resident who alleged that the Town of Barrington and the Barrington Tax Assessor failed to respond to his APRA request in a timely manner.

Mr. Black filed an APRA request with the Town of Barrington on April 17, 2009. When the town did not respond within 10 business days nor seek to extend the time to respond, Mr. Black emailed the town a document containing the text of the April 17th APRA request and stating that he had not received a response. On June 29, 2009, Mr. Black emailed the town to again state that he had not received a response. On July 22, 2009, Mr. Black went to the town hall where he was advised that his APRA request was pending a response from the town solicitor. Mr. Black followed up by writing to the town on August 8, 2009 to ask when the records he requested would be ready to review.

On September 6, 2009, Jeff and Janice Black filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. On September 17, 2009, the Attorney General’s Office notified the town of the complaint and asked the town to respond to the complaint within 10 business days. The town wrote to the Blacks on October 16, 2009, granting them access to the requested documents.

After concluding that the town violated APRA, the Attorney General’s Office reviewed prior APRA violations involving Barrington to determine whether the violation was willful and knowing.

The first lawsuit filed by Department of Attorney General against the Town of Barrington was in March 2005 - Lynch v. Town of Barrington et al - in response to a complaint filed by Jeff and Janice Black alleging that the Town, the Board of Tax Assessment Review and the Town Council had violated APRA, as well as the Open Meetings Act (OMA).

“The Access to Public Records Act clearly defines the responsibility of public bodies to respond within 10 business days of the initial request. The law allows for additional time to fulfill the request if needed for good cause. It is not acceptable for public bodies to ignore the law. It is particularly concerning that the Town of Barrington has been warned and assessed fines in the past for willfully and knowingly ignoring the law,” said Attorney General Kilmartin.

Related links

Department or agency: Department of the Attorney General

Online: http://www.riag.ri.gov/

Release date: 05-05-2011

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