Barrington School Committee responds to Open Meetings violations

AG’s office does not impose fine against Committee

By Josh Bickford
Posted 9/15/23

The Rhode Island Attorney General’s office recently determined that the Barrington School Committee twice violated Open Meetings laws.  

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Barrington School Committee responds to Open Meetings violations

AG’s office does not impose fine against Committee


The Rhode Island Attorney General’s office recently determined that the Barrington School Committee twice violated Open Meetings laws. 

In both cases, however, the AG stopped short of imposing a fine against the Committee or requiring injunctive relief. 

Barrington resident and former member of the School Building Committee Cynthia Rosengard filed the complaints against the School Committee. 

Rosengard, who announced her resignation from the School Building Committee in January, alleged that the School Committee discussed and voted on an item that had not been properly noticed on a Jan. 12 meeting agenda. 

Her second complaint focused on the Barrington School Building Committee. Rosengard stated that a member of the Building Committee who was not physically present at the Feb. 7 meeting participated virtually, which constitutes a violation of the Open Meetings Act. 

“My motivation in filing the complaints in the first place was that the current leadership of the School Committee and Barrington School Building Committee have both been vocal about the importance of process and transparency, and highly critical of past School Committee leadership for violations of the OMA and a lack of transparency, and I believe that the current leadership ought to be held accountable to the values that they have espoused and run their campaigns on,” Rosengard wrote in an email to the Barrington Times. 

Attorney responds

Attorney Caroline Thibeault responded to the allegations on behalf of the Barrington School Committee. 

In regards to the allegedly improperly noticed agenda item, Thibeault argued that there was not a violation because the scope of the discussion and vote that transpired “related directly” to the agenda item. The Jan. 12 meeting agenda listed the item “Discussion and Possible Vote: Building Committee’s Structure and Scope of Work.”

While working under that agenda item, the School Committee discussed and issued an RFQ — request for qualifications — for an owner’s project manager for the school construction projects. 

“Although this agenda item did identify the possibility of a ‘vote,’ there was no reference to the specific subject of this vote, the architectural firm’s recommendation, the possible issuance of an RFQ, or the potential hiring of an OPM,” stated the Attorney General’s decision. 

The School Committee itself acknowledged the issue at that time and revisited the item a week after the Jan. 12 meeting. The Jan. 19 School Committee meeting agenda listed an item “Discuss[ion] and possible vote on an RFQ for an Owner’s Project Manager to oversee School construction projects.”

The AG ruled that the agenda for the Jan. 12 meeting “failed to fairly encompass and provide notice of the substance of what would be discussed and voted upon, and that the Committee violated the OMA.”

The AG later added in the decision: “we do not find injunctive relief to be appropriate because the Committee subsequently reconvened and revoted regarding the same substance of what was discussed and voted upon pursuant to the subject agenda item during the January 12, 2023 meeting.”

Second complaint

The attorney for the School Committee acknowledged that a member of the Building Committee, later identified as TJ Peck, engaged in brief participation from a virtual platform during the Feb. 7 meeting, which constituted a “technical violation” of the OMA. 

But the attorney stated that the virtual participation was of minimal importance and inadvertent. 

The AG’s decision found that Peck violated the OMA, but there was no need for injunctive relief because “the record does not evidence that the member in question voted or took any significant action while participating virtually.”

The decision continued: “Regarding whether the violation was willful or knowing, we find mitigating circumstances in that this member was ‘a newly-elected member of the Committee and newly-appointed member of the Subcommittee,’ which contributed to what the Subcommittee asserts was an ‘inadvertent’ OMA violation. Nonetheless, we are still concerned that this member’s lack of awareness as to the OMA’s requirements led to a violation and that the Subcommittee permitted this member to participate remotely. We advise the Committee to be mindful of the importance of conducting government business in a manner that is open and accessible to the public and to take measures in order to avoid future similar violations by new members…”

Officials comment

During a recent interview with the Barrington Times, Barrington School Committee Chairman Patrick McCrann acknowledged that they had made mistakes. In the case of the improperly noticed meeting, McCrann said the Committee was trying to move too quickly in an effort to maintain the timeline associated with the school construction work. 

McCrann said part of the lesson learned has led the School Committee to have its attorney present at its meetings in an effort to avoid any future problems. 

Rosengard wrote that she was content with the AG’s findings. 

“With respect to the content of the decisions that were associated with these violations, I would only say that we are all going to be asked to vote in November on a $250 million bond for school construction that is coming out of a process that has been opaque, with few details about what the funds will be used for,” she wrote. “They will be asking us to trust those in charge to use that money responsibly, so it is especially important that they do so in compliance with the OMA - with all decisions and business conducted in public.

“I hope that citizens of Barrington will see that there are mechanisms for holding our elected officials accountable and that everyone will pay more attention to this very important process for our community.”

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