Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s Open Government Unit announced the additional violations Friday afternoon, less than three months after a Superior Court found the Town Council violated the state Open Meetings Act five times in hiring Corrigan as town manager. The new violations relate to the firing an employee, who was replaced by a friend of Corrigan, and Corrigan’s town manager reports to the Town Council. Unlike the previous five violations, the two new violations were not ruled knowing and willful.
“Mere sloppiness or recklessness is not tantamount to a willful or knowing violation,” said one of the decisions.
In one case, the Town Council was found to have violated the Open Meetings Act for failing to publicly disclose the firing of Pam Aveyard, who was the administrative assistant to the previous town manager and replaced by Corrigan’s friend Michael Antunes.
“…the Town Council did not provide a ‘statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed,’ see R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-6(b), when it advertised its June 26, 2017 executive session,” said the decision. The AG’s office “directed the Town Council to re-consider its June 26, 2017 action at a properly noticed subsequent meeting,” according to an email from the AG’s office to the parties involved.
The other case involves Corrigan’s tenure as town manager. The Town Council had taken to discussing new business, including a lengthy report critical of local fire fighters, under the broad agenda headline of “Town Manager Reports.” Elizabeth McNamara, of East Greenwich News, and David Caldwell, whose wife Justine Caldwell is running for Republican Anthony Giarrusso’s House seat, both sued separately, arguing the opaque description made it difficult to inform readers and residents about what is happening to its government. The AG’s office agreed.
“We find that the agenda item did not sufficiently specify the nature of the business to be discussed and therefore violated the OMA,” said the decision.
The decisions also refuted several alleged violations of the OMA by the Town Council, one of which concerned tweets from this reporter. Town Councilor Andy Deutsch described an ad hoc gathering at the town manager’s office to me in which one of three town councilor would leave the room to avoid a quorum. Caldwell, submitting my tweets as evidence, argued that amounted to a rolling quorum – when a majority of an elected body privately discuss public business without physically being together for the discussion. The AG’s office disagreed.
“With respect to the rolling quorum allegation, the Town Council submitted uncontroverted evidence in affidavit form that none of the Town Council members discussed or were told the thoughts, actions, or opinions of any other members of the Town Council,” said the AG’s office in an email sent to the parties. “With no evidence of a ‘collective discussion,’ we did not find a rolling quorum and, consequently, did not find an OMA violation.”
The Town Council’s efforts to restructure municipal government has, to date, resulted in several lawsuits, seven violations of the Open Meetings Act, five of which were willful and knowing, one investigation from the state Ethics Commission and at least one complaint before the state Human Rights Commission. The School Committee is considering a Caruolo Action against the Town Council for failing to properly fund schools.