Attorney advises East Providence Council-Elect not to meet

EAST PROVIDENCE — Due to vagaries in Rhode Island General Law, Assistant City Solicitor Robert Craven advised the City Council-Elect not to conduct an executive session scheduled for Saturday morning, Nov. 17.

Mr. Craven, himself newly-elected to the General Assembly from House District 32 in North Kingstown, said after being informed of the planned meeting he recommended to the incoming Council members they should not hold the executive session, which had been posted on the Secretary of State’s website Thursday, Nov. 15.

“In reference to the meeting that was supposed to be held by the City Council-Elect this morning, I met with them and I advised them not to meet because of ambiguities under the Open Meetings Act,” Mr. Craven said early Saturday afternoon.

“I was told of the meeting and did some research on the matter last night (Friday, Nov. 16),” Mr. Craven continued. “And I advised them not to meet. There were no clear exceptions to the act, which gave them the ability to meet or to go into executive session.”

Mr. Craven said the five new Councilors — James Briden, Tracy Capobianco, Helder Cunha, Thomas Rose and Christine Rossi — stressed to him their desire to act according to state law. The Council-Elect planned to meet to discuss the numerous appointments they’ll need to make upon being seated on Dec. 4. Their elections were certified on Nov. 15.

“They could have met in open session to discuss the appointments, but then they would have had to have each person involved be present or they could have requested to each to have the meeting in a closed session,” Mr. Craven explained. “The Council-Elect had no desire to do anything that wasn’t above board, so I advised them not to go into session. If they did meet, they may have been in violation of state law or they may have been making new law.”

Mr. Craven said the existing gap in state law, which leaves Council-Elects in a form of “limbo” from the time their elections are certified to the time they are seated, is something the legislature should address. The East Providence Council-Elect requested he do so in his future capacity as a member of the General Assembly.

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3 Comments

  1. Candy Seel said:

    When this proposed meeting was announced late last week, my immediate reaction was that it was in clear violation of the Open Meetings Act (OMA). That is still my opinion, but I’ve come to understand over the past few days that members-elect of the Council were making a sincere effort to conduct the public’s business in the right way. That is, no more meeting secretively at an obscure location way outside the public’s radar. That’s the way things are traditionally and illegally done, but my understanding is that the incoming Council intended to do things differently this time.

    Unfortunately, as is pointed out in this article, the OMA does not specify how incoming public officials are to discuss matters of a “delicate” nature, such as someone’s qualifications or lack thereof to hold a specific position in city governance.

    Beyond hurt feelings, there is the very real possibility that, in the course of trying to explain his or her reasoning in rejecting a specific individual, a Councilperson-elect may lay himself or herself open to charges of slander or discrimination or some other illegal activity.

    And, without open and frank discussion, someone clearly lacking the requisite knowledge and skills for a job, but merely having a close friend in high places, could be appointed to a key position, with disastrous consequences.

    I see how complex this issue is, and I hope that our state legislature is able very quickly to amend the OMA to include directives for elected officials who have not yet assumed the seats to which they were elected.

    In the meantime, though, the OMA, at least as it is currently interpreted by the Attorney General’s Office, both applies to public officials-elect and prohibits closed meetings except for very narrowly defined exceptions. This proposed meeting did not meet the acceptable threshold for closing the doors to public scrutiny.

    I appreciate the efforts of the incoming members of the Council to do the right thing, and I further commend them for deciding not to violate the OMA as their first order of business.

  2. Mike Rego said:

    Lynn, was wondering the same thing myself. I can tell you that we did not delete them. Trying to figure out if there was a glitch in the system or what.
    Mike Rego, Post editor

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