2006-08-17 / News

'Rolling quorum' issue clarified at council meeting

By Sam Bari

In a letter to Town Administrator Bruce R. Keiser, Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch said that he would give a brief report on the "rolling quorum" issue as it pertains to open forum sessions at Town Council meetings and the reasons for the current fuss at the Aug. 15 council meeting.

Tuesday night Harsch announced that the "council no longer has to feel constrained about voicing opinions at public meetings on non-agenda items."

Along with the letter to Keiser, Harsch attached a memorandum from Mia Manzotti Esq., associate director of the RI League of Cities and Towns, which he advised Keiser to distribute to the council members. Harsch's letter also suggested that "the attorney general was making matters more complicated than necessary. At least for Jamestown, common sense and a basic awareness of the Open Meetings Law's intent should provide ample guidance," the town solicitor wrote.

Manzotti's memorandum further clarifies the "rolling quorum" issue.

"The attorney general's office is questioning certain actions taken by council members as potential "walking" or 'rolling quorums,' in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Because the test of the act itself is silent as to the exact meaning of this term and because this appears to be a common violation of the act, the league felt it was necessary to contact the attorney general's office and to ascertain which specific council actions are most at risk of being classified as 'rolling quorums,'" Manzotti wrote.

The memorandum went on to say that an advisory opinion from June 6, 2006, describes a rolling quorum as "a series of one to one discussions or communications that collectively would constitute a quorum of a public body regarding matters over which it has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power."

Manzotti's memorandum also said that, "the concept of a rolling quorum is so amorphous, however, that it seems that it is most easily understood by way of example. The following are some examples of where the attorney general has found a rolling quorum to have convened in violation of the R.I. Open Meetings Act, much to the surprise of many council members across the state:

+ A series of e-mail communications among a quorum of council members regarding matters over which it has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.

+ A series of telephone conversations among a quorum of council

members regarding matters over which it has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.

+ A series of one-on-one conversations between fellow council members - held in the presence of the general public, with multiple conversations occurring simultaneously - regarding matters over which they have supervision, control jurisdiction or advisory power.

Harsch said that he hoped he had cleared up the matter for the town's council, commission, and committee members, as well as citizens concerned about the ruling.

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