Email Intrigue Comes to the Tiverton Budget Committee

Followers of Tiverton politics don’t have to look to national politics for email intrigue.

The day before our Charter Review Commission (CRC) election, Deborah Scanlon Janick published on her Facebook page a string of private emails sent among some members of the town’s Budget Committee, not including her.  Her explanation, as secretary of the committee, is that I “erroneously left [them] in [her] pile of attachments.”

That isn’t true.  At our February 16 meeting, the committee tried a new method of distributing documents, and it became five minutes of confused paper passing.  The YouTube video shows Janick receiving the emails and slipping them under other documents, rather than passing them on to Nancy Driggs — whose name was at the top of the emails and who was sitting right next to her.  Janick knew they were being passed around by mistake, and she sneakily kept them.

Her next move was to show them to Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto to ask whether the email chain violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA).  Under state law, a quorum (usually a majority of a board) can’t communicate privately about official business because that would essentially be a secret meeting.

The OMA itself doesn’t mention “communications,” but the attorney general has ruled that public bodies can’t use correspondence to evade the law.  In other words, we can’t conduct a meeting by email and claim it wasn’t a meeting, but having less than a quorum means it’s not a meeting either way.

The OMA’s goal isn’t to prevent elected officials from communicating with each other and working together.  That’s why the related Access to Public Records Act (APRA) exempts “working papers” even though the OMA does not exempt “workshops.”

In this case, there were five of us on the email chain out of 11 Budget Committee members, so Mr. DeSisto concluded we’d done nothing wrong.  Nonetheless, Janick held on to the emails for five months and attempted to throw them like a grenade the day before an election, hoping to affect the outcome.

I encourage readers to go to Janick’s Facebook page and read the emails.  You may or may not agree with the opinions of the writers, but what they show is a group of dedicated volunteers spending their own time researching issues related to the town’s budget.

I also encourage readers to think about what this incident says about Deborah Janick.  In her official role as the secretary of the Budget Committee, she took private emails that she knew weren’t meant to be shared and released them on her own Facebook page for political advantage.

It’s going to take some investigation to determine whether she broke any laws, but in my book, that’s theft and abuse of office.

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Justin KatzJustin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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