R.I. councilman seeks access to public records

by

Paul Caranci, councilman, North Providence, R.I.

By Paul Caranci, councilman, North Providence, R.I.

As a local elected official, I am constantly confronted by constituents complaining about the actions of other elected officials. While I take all reports seriously, I also have a responsibility to investigate those charges that seem to constitute a violation of the law while dismissing those that seem frivolous or politically motivated. That is exactly what I did after receiving several complaints regarding violations of Rhode Island bidding laws and the local town charter.

My initial inquiries led me to a determination that there were in fact violations so numerous as to establish a pattern of total and blatant disregard for the laws by the mayor of North Providence. In fact, some of the violations suggested political favoritism, nepotism and quid-pro-quo. Consequently, at the August 5, 2009 meeting of the Town Council, I moved to request several records from the administration. The motion carried on a unanimous 7-0 vote.

When the records were not forthcoming by August 25th, and after getting word that the administration had no intention of supplying the information, I made a formal request for the information under the state’s Open Records Act. Because of what it described as the voluminous nature of the request, the administration requested an additional 30 business days to respond. (R.I. law requires responses within 10 days but allows for an additional 20 days if requested. The town’s request exceeded the law by 10 days.) Nonetheless, I waited until 42 business days had elapsed with no word from the town before filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s office.

After the passage of four months without compliance, the R.I. Attorney General cited the town for a violation of the Access to Public Records Act and ordered the town to turn over the records within 10 days. In late December, the town notified me that I could inspect some of the records at the Town Hall under supervision between the hours of 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Monday – Friday. My request that I be allowed to conduct the review any time during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, my vacation week, was denied as no one in Town Hall with authority was available to me that week.

Unable to review the records during those hours at any other time due to my work schedule, I asked that I be allowed to review the records during evening or weekend hours. This request, too, was denied.

Now, some six and a half months after my initial request, I have received very limited access to records and await a decision by the Attorney General as to whether or not the town’s violation of the APRA was knowing and willful, a decision that could result in sanctions. The limited information that I have received so far does indeed support the allegations of bidding violations, nepotism and quid-pro-quo.

When I am able to obtain the remaining documents included in my request, I do intend to take further actions with respect to these violations.

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