AG: Warwick City Council Violated Open Meetings Law
School Committee member Paul Cannistra has made good on his promise to file an open meetings violation complaint with Attorney General Patrick Lynch, and the AG has agreed to look into it.
Cannistra was recently ejected from a City Council meeting in which the council was deciding whether to cut the school committee’s budget by $2.9 million, after Finance Committee Chairman Ray Gallucci admitted that he had a meeting at his residence with council members Donna Travis (Ward-6), Steve Colantuono (Ward-1) and Council President Bruce Place (Ward-2). Gallucci said the four council members worked on amendments to the budget at the session.
Immediately after revealing this, Cannistra popped out of his seat and asked Place if he would “indulge” him on a point of order. After Place refused, Cannistra shouted out that the council had just admitted to a violation of the state Open Meetings Law because the full council finance committee had met at Gallucci’s house—a private residence—and without proper notice.
Place then asked a police officer on detail to remove Cannistra from the meeting.
The Attorney General’s office has rendered a decision (PDF) in favor of Cannistra: the Warwick City Council’s Finance Committee did violate the Open Meetings law. Further:
….this Department is troubled by Councilman Galluci’s statement at the June 2, 2009 Council meeting that, “[t]he reason that I could not ask more than four members, at my home to discuss this, is that would be breaking the Open Meetings Law.” The obvious implication of this statement, and the evidence set forth above, is that one or more members in attendance at the May 31, 2009 meeting was cognizant of an appreciable possibility that the OMA may have applied to this meeting and did not take reasonable steps to resolve that doubt. In fact, the evidence could be construed that despite their awareness of the OMA [Open Meetings Amendment], Finance Committee members took steps, which were unsuccessful, to avoid the mandate of the OMA.
Clearly, the mistake the Finance Committee members made was actually admitting their private meeting during the course of a public one. I’d be willing to bet that the OMA is violated routinely in Warwick and across the state. And this is one of two legal binds the City Council got itself into in June. It has also been sued by United Healthcare for violating its own rules regarding contracting out municipal/school department healthcare management services.