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RIAG: Warwick Retirement Board Admits to Open Meetings Violations

RI Attorney General Peter F. Neronha.

RIAGWarwick, RI – The Warwick Retirement Board has admitted it violated state Open Meetings Law twice in March, agreeing to pay a $2,000 fine.

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin’s office announced Wednesday that he and the board reached a settlement agreement in which the board acknowledged it violated RI Open Meetings Law by wilfully failing to post its March 4 meeting 48 hours in advance, then discussing matters in closed session at its March 18 meeting illegally.

The Warwick Retirement Board acknowledged that it failed to post notice for its March 4, 2015 meeting within a minimum of 48 hours before the date of the meeting. Regarding its March 18, 2015 executive session, the Retirement Board also acknowledged that it failed to provide the Attorney General an explanation for how the premature disclosure of matters discussed during its March 18, 2015 executive session would adversely affect the public interest, as required by law.

“Public bodies must provide the public with adequate notice of meetings and must conduct business in open sessions, unless otherwise exempted.  These requirements are meant to ensure that the citizenry knows what its government is doing and how decisions may impact the greater community,” said Kilmartin.

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.”

The AG’s office began investigating the Retirement Board’s actions after receiving Open Meeting Law complaints on the matter filed by Robert Cushman, a former city councilman.

Cushman filed two separate Open Meeting Law complaints against the board, one on March 13 after the March 4 meeting, the other on March 19 after the March 18 meeting.

The AG’s office gave the board 10 business days to respond to the question of their intent in the matter after an initial finding against the body.

According to the finding, the board met March 4 for review, discussion, and possible action regarding recent changes in the Municipal Pension Fund plan assumptions. During the meeting, the board voted to accept the recommended plan assumptions drafted by Graber Roeder Smith & Company.

The meeting was deemed null and void due to what Personnel Director Jane Jordan referred to as the “inadvertent” failure to post the meeting 48 hours in advance. However, the ruling points out, the meeting description entered into the posting on the RI Secretary of State website reads, “SPECIAL NOTE: This is an emergency meeting.”

“To us, this suggests that the board was well aware that it was convening its March 4 meeting on less than 48 hours notice,” the ruling reads. Also, the minutes show that a reason for convening in closed session was not provided, as is required under RI Open Meeting Law.

The maximum penalty under the OMA is $5,000 for knowing or willful violations.

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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