Attorney General: City Council violated Open Meetings Act

Attorney General: City Council violated Open Meetings Act

WOONSOCKET – The Office of Attorney General Peter Neronha ruled that the Woonsocket City Council violated the state Open Meetings Act by failing to properly advertise an agenda item during a meeting in March, according to findings released earlier this month.

The complaint, filed by state Sen. Melissa Murray, stems from a March 18 incident when Councilor Jon Brien discussed Murray’s position on various bills, including Senate Bill 158, during a City Council meeting. The discussion was listed on the agenda simply as “legislative report,” leading Murray to argue the agenda item was vague and did not give advance notice the council would be discussing her position or give her an opportunity to respond.

In a ruling issued by Special Assistant Attorney General Kayla O’Rourke, O’Rourke determined the incident did in fact constitute a violation of the state Open Meetings Act, which requires all items discussed by public boards to be listed in advance on an agenda. O’Rourke noted the council was previously found in violation of the OMA when councilors discussed the conduct of then-Zoning Board member Richard Fagnant under an agenda item titled “Good and welfare” in 2015 and told the council they were “on notice” regarding future similar situations.

Though the Office of the Attorney General may file suit in Superior Court or impose a fine for violations of the OMA, O’Rourke wrote that the office would not take those actions because they did not find violation was “willful or knowing,” though she described the case as a “close call.”