WARWICK, RI — Warwick officials don’t have to produce the original digital records detailing WFD sick time taken by firefighters between 2013 and 2018 that cost the city up to $368,000, the state attorney general’s office has ruled.
Responding to an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) complaint filed by WarwickPost Publisher Rob Borkowski, Special Asst. Atty. Gen. Adam Roach wrote in a May 11 decision that “the City does not possess the subject document and has no legal obligation under the APRA to obtain it.”
Borkowski had requested the document from City Clerk Lynn D’Abrosca in September, 2021, to which D’Abrosca referred him to the Marcum Report, a PDF document that included printouts of the original spreadsheet.
After D’Abrosca denied the request, Borkowski appealed to the attorney general’s office, contending that the city had paid for Marcum Group to create the sick time spreadsheet, placing Marcum under the same requirements as the city to produce it.
But Roach determined that “Marcum Group is not a public body whose records are subject to the APRA,” instead ruling that the firm was “a contractor whose limited scope was to ‘assist the Warwick City Council with understanding certain facts and circumstances with respect to the sick leave benefit accruals and payments made by the Warwick Fire Department (the ‘Department’) for the period of February 1, 2013 to June 30, 2018.’”
Roach also sided with the contention made by city officials and Marcum Group representatives that the spreadsheet was a “work product” of Marcum’s research that didn’t legally have to be turned over to the city.
“Exempting contractors from the clear language of APRA — that ‘Any person or entity requesting copies of public records may elect to obtain them in any and all media in which the public agency is capable of providing them’ — opens a loophole for public bodies to deny full access to the documents that they pay vendors to produce,” explained Borkowski. “It also potentially allows public bodies to release sanitized and subjective versions of that information, making it more difficult for the public to get a clear, unbiased view of how their community is being run.”
In this case, Borkowski said, having the original spreadsheet would allow people to easily sort, tabulate, and compare the amount of excess sick time received by each member of the fire department.
“Instead, the city is forcing readers to flip among more than 200 pages of printed documentation to compile data that they could otherwise produce within minutes by having access to the original digital spreadsheet,” he added. “This, to me, stands in contrast to APRA’s intent of providing full access to public information.”
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