Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today announced that the Office has filed open government lawsuits against the Western Coventry Fire District and the Manville Fire Department.
Western Coventry Fire District Attorney General Kilmartin filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court citing the Western Coventry Fire District for violations of the Rhode Island Open Meetings Act (OMA) for failure to timely file the unofficial minutes for its September 18, 2014 meeting on the Secretary of State's website.
The Western Coventry Fire District filed or posted the unofficial minutes for its September 18, 2014 meeting on the Secretary of State's website on October 14, 2014, when the minutes should have been posted by October 9, 2014.
In June 2014, the Office of Attorney General issued a finding that the Fire District had violated the OMA for failing to timely post its unofficial minutes on the Secretary of State's website for seven meetings. Based on the explanation provided by the Fire District, that it was unaware that fire districts were subject to the OMA and APRA, the Office did not find the Fire District willfully or knowing violated the OMA at that time, but stated that June 2014 finding served as notice that the conduct was unlawful and may "serve as evidence of a willful or knowing violation in any similar future situation."
On March 9, 2015, the Office of Attorney General issued a finding (Novak v. Western Coventry Fire District OM 15-03) finding the Fire District in violation of the OMA. On April 13, 2015, the Office issued a supplemental finding (Novak v. Western Coventry OM 15-03B) finding the violation for failing to post the unofficial minutes to the Secretary of State's Office website in a timely manner to be willful or knowing.
The maximum penalty under the OMA is $5,000 for knowing or willful violations.
Manville Fire Department Today, Attorney General Kilmartin filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court citing the Manville Fire Department for violations of the State's Access to Public Records Act (APRA) for failure to timely respond to an APRA request.
On February 24, 2014, Attorney Mark McBurney filed an APRA request on behalf of his client, Mr. Dan DesMarais. On March 10, 2014, the Fire Department extended the time to respond, pursuant to APRA. A response was due on or about April 4, 2014. The Fire Department failed to respond to the request.
Under the APRA, a public body has 10 business days to respond to a request for documents (R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-7). If the public body denies the request, a written response detailing the specific reasons for the denial shall be sent within those 10 business days to the person or entity making the request (R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-7(a)). If no response is sent within 10 business days, the lack of response will be deemed a denial (R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-7(b)). If, for good cause, the public body cannot comply with a records request within 10 business days, then the public body may extend the time period an additional 20 business days, for a total of 30 business days (R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 38-2-7(a) and 38-2-3(e)).
The Office of Attorney General found the Fire Department violated the APRA in a finding issued on February 20, 2015 (DesMarais v. Manville Fire Department PR 15-08) and allowed the Fire Department the opportunity to address whether the untimely response was knowing and willful or reckless. By supplemental finding dated April 13, 2015, the Office of Attorney General concluded that the violation was willful and knowing (DesMarais v. Manville Fire Department PR 15-08B).
The Office had previously found that the Fire Department had violated the APRA for failure to timely respond to an APRA request. In 2012, the Office warned the Fire Department that its actions violated the APRA and could be used as evidence of a willful and knowing violation in the future.
The maximum penalty under the APRA is $2,000 for knowing and willful violation.
"While these two cases have different sets of facts, one thing remains in common: both had been found to be in violation in the past and warned that future similar actions may result in a finding of willful and knowing violation. Both entities failed to comply with our open government laws despite being previously found in violation and warned," said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.