Woonsocket superintendent's office found in violation of APRA

Woonsocket superintendent's office found in violation of APRA

WOONSOCKET – The Attorney General's office has found that the office of Supt. Giovanna Donoyan violated the state Access to Public Records Act when it failed to respond to a request by former middle school resource teacher Cynthia Boss for documents related to the Sick Leave Pool Board of Governors.

The pool, which is operated by the Woonsocket Teacher's Guild, is "bank" of sick days used by teachers and paraprofessionals. Members donate one sick day per year to the pool and can borrow back time as needed.

According to the complaint, filed in February 2013, Boss submitted a request in November for all annual copies of the accounting of the Pool's operations from June 1996 to Nov. 2012 along with other documents related to the board's operations.

The response from Donoyan, however, only included seven documents: ones provided by the Pool since the start of her tenure in Sept. of 2011.

Boss resubmitted the same request in December, and Donoyan's office responded with a request for a 20 day extension. According to APRA law, a public body must respond to a request within 10 days or file for extension. Boss said in the complaint that she never received the documents, or further correspondence from the superintendent's office.

In Donoyan's response to the Attorney Generals' office, the superintendent said that her office had no other files titled "Sick Leave Pool Board."

"Within one week following the complainant's request for records filed on Nov. 19, 2012, I sent the complainant all of the documents which were responsive to the complainant's request of which I had knowledge of during my tenure as superintendent," Donoyan stated.

A "confluence of further events," however contributed to "an inadvertent lack of further response" according to the superintendent. As reasons Donoyan lists: appointment of a state imposed Budget Commission; "a personnel shortage within the Woonsocket Education Department as a result of extreme financial duress;" the June 2012 resignation of her secretary and failure to fill the position until Dec. 2012; lack of a filing system; absence of a comptroller, finance director, business manager or deputy superintendent; and "the need to familiarize myself with the workings of the school system while simultaneously meeting and answering the demands of the Woonsocket Budget Commission, responding to requests from the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Department of Revenue, while attempting to discharge my other obligations as superintendent."

In a ruling signed by Special Assistant Attorney General Maria Corvese, the AG's office finds that there is no question that the superintendent's office failed to respond within 30 days.

"Indeed, the gap between the date a response was due, January 15, 2013, and the date the superintendent's office responded, March 7, 2013, is unsatisfactorily explained," the letter states.

It is the first time the department has found a violation against the superintendent's office, but the second violation found in Woonsocket this year. In July, the department found that City Clerk Andrea Bicki's office did not respond in a timely manner to Attorney Michael Kelly's request for documents related to the city's new water treatment plant. An investigation as to whether or not the violation was knowing and willful is still ongoing.

The superintendent's office has 10 days from the date of the letter, sent Aug. 28, to provide an explanation as to why the "untimely response should not be considered knowing and willful, or reckless, in light of recognition of APRA requirements."

The attorney general's office can file a complaint in Superior Court on behalf of the complainant when a violation is found and the court can ultimately impose a fine of up to $2,000.

In response to a second complaint by Boss, the AG's office also ruled that the Budget Commission did not violate the Open Meetings Act by meeting with the members of the School Department to discuss Boss's termination. Boss had charged that the group met in a closed door session without notifying or inviting her and pointed to a memo posted on the Budget Commission’s web site for the October 25, 2012 meeting in which Attorney Edmond Alves advised the Budget Commission that they could meet in executive session with the School Committee “to discuss the potential termination of an employee without notifying the affected individual…”

Alves, responding on behalf of the Commission, states that no such meeting took place. Further, Alves points out that under state law, budget commissions are only subject to OMA only when they meet to take action on one of five matters: levy or assessment of taxes; rulemaking or suspension of rules; adoption of a municipal budget; approval or amendments to collective bargaining agreements; and the making of a determination of a determination that their powers are insufficient to restore fiscal stability to a city or town.