STATE HOUSE — Representative Ken Mendonça (R-District 72 Middletown, Portsmouth) testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, regarding legislation he proposed (H-5512) to revamp open meetings laws.
House bill 5512 would require the Attorney General to file a report detailing the findings of an investigation into any complaint alleging violations of open meetings laws, within ninety days of the filing of the complaint. The report, would then become a public document.
In Representative Mendonça’s testimony before Judiciary Committee members, he stated, “There are many commissions and boards, such as comprehensive planning, zoning, economic, historic, parks and the like in each town in Rhode Island.
“These volunteer boards are made up of members from their community who are in most cases, appointed by their town council. Many of these commissions or boards meet as infrequently as once a month or less. It is also not uncommon for minutes from the previous meeting to be approved at the next meeting, whenever that timeframe takes place.”
Rep. Mendonça added, “There are boards in towns, such as zoning for example, that have tremendous authority and their decisions can have a lasting impact on their community. If the volunteer board unintentionally appears to violate the open meetings act, then one recourse is to submit a complaint with the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office or hire an attorney for fee.
If there is an open meeting complaint regarding a zoning meeting, it could have enormous impacts, financial or others, on the entire community to bear.”
“When a person or organization submits an open meetings complaint to the AG, there could be a need for a timely response, given the nature of the meeting topic. If it takes six months for the AG office to produce its findings, then decisions made in an unlawful meeting setting may not be able to be reversed, that is, the horse is not only out of barn, but out of the corral. What this bill does, is set a standard of timeframe for the AG’s office to provide their findings, so that if an open meetings violation has occurred, there may be a better chance to undue any action that the board may have taken in an unlawful meeting setting,” he concluded.
Co-Sponsors of the legislation include Representatives Sherry Roberts (R-District 29 Coventry/West Greenwich), Blake Filippi (R-District 36 Charlestown/South Kingstown/Westerly/New Shoreham), Bob Quattrocchi (R-District 41 Scituate/Cranston) and John J. Lombardi (D-District 8 Providence).