Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin announced that Superior Court Justice Joseph Montalbano ordered the Manville Fire District to pay $5,000 for willfully or knowingly violating the state's Open Meetings Act ("OMA") when it failed to hold its board meetings in a handicapped accessible location on multiple occasions, despite being warned by the Office of Attorney General that this behavior violated the OMA. Further, the Court permanently enjoined the Fire District from holding its open meetings in locations that are not handicapped acceptable.
The Office of Attorney General filed the lawsuit against the Manville Fire District in June 2012, citing three separate violations for holding meetings in locations that were not handicapped accessible.
The State filed the lawsuit on behalf on Mr. Marcel DesMarais who filed a complaint with the Office of Attorney General on August 22, 2011 claiming he was denied access to an August 10, 2011 meeting. After an investigation, the Office of Attorney General issued a finding dated November 8, 2011, citing the Fire District for being in violation of OMA for holding the meeting on the 2nd floor of the Manville fire station, which was not handicapped accessible. As part of the November 2011 finding the Office expressly instructed the Fire District to conduct future meetings at or in locations that were handicapped accessible.
Thereafter, on March 13, 2012, Mr. DesMarais filed another complaint alleging that he was denied access to meetings on December 14, 2011, January 11, 2012 and February 8, 2012, because the Fire District continued to hold its public meetings on the second floor of the fire station despite the Attorney General's November 8, 2011 finding and directive. After investigation, the Office of Attorney General again found that the Fire District violated the OMA for continuing to conduct meetings in a location that was not handicapped accessible and filed an OMA lawsuit in the Superior Court alleging that by virtue of the Attorney General's November 8, 2011 finding, the Fire District knowingly or willfully violated the OMA when it held its December 14, 2011, January 11, 2012, and February 8, 2012 meetings in a location that was not accessible to persons with physical disabilities.
"Of all the requirements in the Open Meetings Act public bodies are required to follow, perhaps the easiest and most important to comply with is ensuring access to all citizens, including those with physical limitations. The Manville Fire District failed to do so on multiple occasions. The nature of the violation was egregious and a significant fine of $5000 is appropriate," said Attorney General Kilmartin.
Michael W. Field, Assistant Attorney General and chief of the Open Government Unit, argued the case before the Court.