2008-03-06 / News

North Kingstown school board fined for open meetings violation

Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch said that a Consent Judgment entered in Washington County Superior Court last week brings to an end his lawsuit against the North Kingstown School Committee for violating the State's Open Meeting Act (OMA).

On February 21, 2007, Lynch filed papers in Washington County Superior Court seeking a civil fine for "a willful or knowing violation" of the OMA by the North Kingstown School Committee. Lynch brought the lawsuit on behalf of Melvoid Benson, a member of the North Kingstown School Committee who, in a complaint filed with the Attorney General in September 2006, alleged that the North Kingstown School Committee had violated the OMA by holding a meeting on August 23, 2006, despite having posted notice with the Secretary of State's website less than the required 48 hours in advance of the meeting.

An investigative review by Special Assistant Attorney General Adam J. Sholes revealed that the School Committee's failure to properly file the electronic notice 48 hours in advance of the meeting constituted a knowing or willful violation of the OMA, requiring the Attorney General to seek a monetary fine against the School Committee.

Lynch said that under the terms of the Consent Judgment, per order of Associate Justice O. Rogeriee Thompson, the North Kingstown School Committee has agreed to pay the state a $1,500 fine and has represented that it has taken corrective measures to ensure that it electronically files notice of a meeting with the Secretary of State's Office at least 48 hours in advance. Additionally, all votes taken at the August 23, 2006, meeting were reaffirmed by the School Committee at a subsequent meeting.

"It stands to reason that the North Kingstown School Committee will be more mindful of complying with our open-government laws as a result of this litigation," Lynch said. "Upon realizing that the meeting was not properly posted, the committee should have cancelled and then rescheduled the meeting. Open government is at the very core of our democratic principles, and it is incumbent on public bodies to abide by the laws governing the Open Meetings Act and the Access to Public Records Act."

Lynch has brought four lawsuits against public bodies under his authority as Attorney General, pursuant to Rhode Island's open-government laws.

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