WARWICK, RI — The Warwick City Council began its full meeting Wednesday with an immediate vote to enter executive session to discuss Rob Cote’s free speech suit against the body, taking an undisclosed vote.
The suit, ROBERT R. COTE ) Plaintiff ) ) Vs. ) C.A. 23-346 ) DONNA TRAVIS, WILLIAM FOLEY, ) VINCENT GEBHART, TIMOTHY ) HOWE, EDGAR LADOUCEUR, ) STEPHEN MCALLISTER, JAMES ) MCELROY, JEREMY RIX, and ) ANTHONY SINAPI, in their individual ) and official capacities as members of the ) Council of the City of Warwick, Rhode ) Island ), is filed in US District Court by the ACLU of Rhode Island on behalf of frequent city critic and City Council speaker Rob Cote.
During the July 17 meeting, Cote sought to address allegations contained in a Providence Journal article regarding the role of Council Member Donna Travis in a controversial acquisition of land from the Oakland Beach Real Estate Owners Association.
The suit argues Travis’s denial of Cote’s right to speak at the meeting, and the rest of the Council’s acquiescence in that censorship, violated Cote’s First Amendment rights. The suit seeks a court order to allow him to speak at an upcoming Council meeting on the issues he intended to raise at the July meeting and future matters and a declaration striking down the Council’s “unwritten practice of preventing the public from criticizing public officials during the public comment, and an award of monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.
The Council remained in executive session for 47 minutes. They reconvene at 3:03 in the video. After the body reconvenes, the Council’s lawyer, Bill Walsh, announces that the body took two votes, one of which was to reconvene in public session. He did not report the nature or any other details of the other vote.
According to RI law governing executive session vote disclosure, “All votes taken in closed sessions shall be disclosed once the session is reopened; provided, however, a vote taken in a closed session need not be disclosed for the period of time during which its disclosure would jeopardize any strategy, negotiation or investigation undertaken pursuant to discussions conducted under § 42-46-5(a).”
When asked about the reason to not disclose the nature of the vote, and invited to comment on the ACLU’s call to reassure the public of their right to speak their minds, Warwick City Council President Steve McAllister declined.
“Per instructions from the city council’s attorney, I have no comment on pending litigation,” McAllister said.
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