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OM 19-44 Fagnant v. Woonsocket City Council - Violation Found

The Complainant alleged that the Woonsocket City Council violated the OMA at its July 1, 2019, August 5, 2019, and October 7, 2019 meetings when the agenda item "Good and Welfare" did not sufficiently specify the nature of the business to be discussed. See R.I. Gen. Laws 42-46-6(b). The City Council does not dispute that Councilmembers discussed a number of topics related to City business during these portions of the meetings. Nor does the City Council dispute that the relevant agenda items did not indicate any of the specific topics that would be discussed. Based on the undisputed evidence, we found that the agenda item "Good and Welfare" did not adequately inform the public of the nature of the business to be discussed by the City Council at its July 1, 2019, August 5, 2019, and October 7, 2019 meetings.

In Fagnant v. Woonsocket City Council, OM 15-17, this Office previously found that the City Council's use of the "Good and Welfare" agenda item to discuss a number of different issues violated the OMA because it lacked any identifying information concerning the nature of the business to be discussed. At that time, we cautioned the City Council that the finding serves as notice that use of that agenda item is unlawful and that the finding may serve as evidence of a willful or a knowing violation in any similar future situation. We were also presented with evidence that the City Council's former solicitor had warned the City Council that use of this agenda item violated the OMA. Additionally, our Office recently found that the City Council violated this exact same provision of the OMA with regard to a different agenda item that lacked adequate specificity. See Murray v. Woonsocket City Council, OM 19-12. Given the history of repeated violations, the patent inadequacy of the agenda item, and the multiple admonishments provided to the City on this exact issue, combined with the City Council's discussion of substantive matters under the "Good and Welfare" agenda item, we conclude that the City Council's violation of the OMA was willful or knowing. VIOLATION FOUND.

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