Council did not violate Open Meetings Act

Council did not violate Open Meetings Act

NORTH SMITHFIELD - The North Smithfield Town Council did not violate the Open Meetings Act during the process of appointing Assistant Solicitor Stephen Archambault in Dec. 2012, according to a recent ruling by the state attorney general's office.

The ruling was in response to a complaint filed by resident Paul Vadenais on July 10, 2013. Vadenais charged that the council had violated OMA by discussing town business outside the purview of the public between their meetings on Dec. 12 and Dec. 17, 2012, namely, the appointment of a new assistant solicitor. The complaint stated that it appeared from the council's Dec. 12 discussion that a different assistant solicitor was going to be appointed, and that therefore, discussions between council members must have occurred before Archambault was nominated to the position on Dec. 17.

In a follow-up letter sent to the attorney general on Aug. 23, Vadenais said that conversations likely took place in phone calls or emails with the town administrator.

"My information and belief is that the town administrator's office is being used as a conduit to discuss council business possibly via her email account," Vadenais wrote.

Solicitor James Lombardi crafted the town's response to the complaint, and included affidavits from all five council members. Each stated that they either knew they did not, or that they did not recall having any conversations about appointment of the assistant solicitor outside of public meeting.

The attorney general's decision, which was mailed to Vadenais on Dec. 26, 2013, states that based on the evidence presented, no violation of OMA occurred.

"After our review of all the evidence, we respectfully disagree that it was quite obvious that the council's choice for assistant solicitor," was going to be someone other than Archambault, the letter, signed by Special Assistant Attorney General Lisa Pinsonneault, explains. The response quotes a transcript of the councilors' conversation during the Dec. 12 meeting.

"Our review of the audio tapes, the meeting minutes, and the transcript confirms the conclusion that the choice for assistant solicitor came down to two candidates and Mr. Archambeault received favorable reviews during the council's discussion," the letter states.

In investigating the allegation that Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton violated OMA by discussing the appointment via phone or email, the attorney general's office obtained additional statements from the five councilors, along with the administrator. Only Flaherty stated that he received a single email from Hamilton about the appointment, and sent none, activity the Pinsonneault points out did not create a quorum.

"Lastly, although your August 23 letter alleges that a Town Council member advised you that the town administrator was used as a conduit for the Town Council to discuss this matter, you do not identify the Town Council member and this hearsay allegation falls well short to support an OMA violation," the letter concludes.