Commission Acknowledges Violation, Agrees to Consent Judgment and Pays $1,000 Fine
The Office of Attorney General filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court citing the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission (I-195 Commission) for a willful or knowing violation of the Rhode Island Open Meetings Act (OMA) when the I-195 Commission failed to post notice of the July 8, 2013 meeting within a minimum of 48 hours before the meeting.
The OMA requires that all public bodies provide written notice of their meetings within 48 hours of the meeting (R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-6(b)). The notice shall include the date the notice was posted, the date, time, and place of the meeting, and a statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed.
The lawsuit is the result of a complaint filed with the Office of Attorney General by Common Cause, which alleged that the I-195 Commission violated the OMA when the Commission posted notice of the July 8, 2013 meeting on the Secretary of State's website on the morning of July 8, 2013. In a previously released finding (OM 13-27), the Office of Attorney General found that the I-195 Commission did violate the OMA when the agency posted the notice of the meeting within eight hours, not the required 48 hours, of the meeting.
The Office of Attorney General investigated the matter further to determine if the I-195 Commission committed a knowing or willful violation. In that finding (OM 13-27B), the Office of Attorney General noted that by its own admission, the I-195 Commission, or its agent, knew the meeting had not been properly posted, yet convened the meeting anyway. Indeed, legal counsel for the I-195 Commission states that it was under the belief that the posting was "better late than never."
The I-195 Commission, either itself or through its agent, was cognizant of an appreciable possibility it was subject to the statutory requirements and it failed to take steps reasonably calculated to resolve that doubt.
"As noted in the supplemental finding, if we determine that a willful or knowing violation exists, yet allow the public body to escape sanction by expressing remorse and offering assurances of future compliance, the Open Meetings Act would be in tatters," said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.
Based on the substantive response and affidavits by the I-195 Commission, the Office determined that the I-195 Commission did commit a knowing or willing violation of the OMA.
In response to the supplemental finding and lawsuit, the Commission acknowledged the violation and entered into a consent judgment with the Office, agreeing to pay a $1,000 fine.