Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today announced that the Office of Attorney General filed a lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court citing the Warwick Retirement Board for a willful or knowing violation of the Rhode Island Open Meetings Act (OMA) when the Board held a meeting on less than 48 hours notice, and when it discussed matters at its March 18 closed session meeting that should have been discussed in public.
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 OMA further requires that "[a] meeting closed to the public shall be limited to matters allowed to be exempt from discussion at open meeting by § 42-46-5…No public body shall discuss in closed session any public matter which does not fall within the citations to § 42-46-5(a) referred to by the public body in voting to close the meeting, even if these discussions could otherwise be closed to the public under this chapter." R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-4. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-5(a)(7), a public body may hold a meeting closed to discuss "[a] matter related to the question of the investment of public funds where the premature disclosure would adversely affect the public interest. Public funds shall include any investment plan or matter related thereto, including but not limited to state lottery plans for new promotions."
On April 27, 2015, the Office of Attorney General issued Cushman v. Warwick Retirement Board, OM 15-05, wherein the Office found that the Board violated the OMA by failing to post notice for its March 4, 2015 meeting within a minimum of forty-eight (48) hours before the date of the meeting. Public notice for the Board's March 4, 2015 meeting was not posted on the Secretary of State's website until March 3, 2015. The Office's finding also determined that the Board violated the OMA when it discussed matters in closed session that were not appropriate under the exemption cited.
After concluding that the Board violated the OMA on two (2) occasions, the Office allowed the Board the opportunity to address whether the violations were knowing or willful. By supplemental finding dated May 12, 2015, the Office concluded that both OMA violations were knowing or willful.
"This office will continue to ensure that government is open and accountable to the public. Today, as we settle a dispute over one open government violation, we file a lawsuit in another and continue to send the message that citizens have a right to know what their government is up to," said Attorney General Kilmartin.
The maximum penalty under the OMA is $5,000 for each knowing or willful violation.