State dismisses EBEC open meetings, records complaints
The state Attorney General ruled Friday that the East Bay Energy Consortium (EBECV) did not break state access to public records and open meetings laws by failing to provide a Tiverton man minutes from dozens of meetings it held between 2009 to 2012 in a timely manner.
The ruling comes in response to a complaint filed last year by Gerald Felise of Tiverton. Mr. Felise is the CEO of eCo Industrial Park of Rhode Island and Natural Energy Generators, an independent, privately funded renewable energy and infrastructure company that hopes to build a 100 megawatt wind farm on 650 acres of land in Tiverton. EBEC is a consortium of nine Rhode Island towns —Barrington, Bristol, Warren, Little Compton, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Middletown, Newport and East Providence — exploring municipal energy generating projects, specifically wind power, in Rhode Island.
In his original complaint, Mr. Felise alleged that the EBEC violated the state Open Meetings Act (OMA) by failing to post minutes for 39 meetings held between December 2009 and April 2012 within 35 days of the meetings or at the next regular meeting, as the law requires. He also complained that EBEC took longer than the allowable time limit required to respond to his request for public records, an alleged allegation of the state's Access to Public Records Act (APRA).
In response, EBEC attorney Thomas V. Moses wrote that while the EBEC is a public body, it is not bound by timely posting requirements called for under OMA. Specifically, he argued, EBEC is not a public body within the state's executive branch, nor is it a state public or quasi-public board, agency or corporation — all of which are required to file in a timely manner. Instead, it is a municipal body and therefore is held to a different standard.
In her opinion published Friday, state Special Assistant Attorney General Maria R. Corvese agreed.
"While the EBEC is certainly a public body … not all public bodies are subject to the provision at issue. The EBEC is a municipal, not state, entity." EBEC, she wrote, obeyed the standard it is held to under the law by providing unofficial minutes in a timely manner, and had them available for review at EBEC offices at Bristol Town Hall.
In addition, Mr. Felise alleged that EBEC took longer than the 10 days allowed under APRA to provide him with records and minutes he also sought. In response, Mr. Moses wrote that the voluminous number of records Mr. Felise requested, coupled with the fact that EBEC has no full time staff, necessitated an extension allowed under the law when "good cause" is shown. Again, the AG's office agreed.
"This Department finds that the EBEC did not violate the APRA when it extended the response time an additional 20 business days" Ms. Corvese wrote.
Though she wrote that Mr. Felise's complaint is closed, he has the right to appeal the ruling to the state Superior Court within 90 days.