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No OMA Violation: RI Attorney General Adds to the List of Dismissed Complaints

On January 17, three members of the Tiverton Town Council – Patricia Hilton, Denise DeMedeiros, and Joseph Perry – filed an Open Meetings Act (OMA) complaint with the Rhode Island Attorney General against the other four councilors:  Robert Coulter, Donna Cook, Nancy Driggs, and me, all of us members of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA).  The complaint included three separate accusations, and after five months, more than $1,500 in expenses to the town, and many hours of lost time, all three counts have been dismissed.  As the Attorney General’s ruling states, “we find that the Town Council did not violate the OMA.”

When Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto resigned three days after the November election and the Town Council hired Giovanni Cicione as an interim replacement, activists reached for any complaint process they could find.  On January 12th, residents Stuart Gilfillen and David Paull filed an Ethics Complaint, which was dismissed without investigation because the hiring obviously did not violate the Code of Ethics.  On January 22nd, resident Michael Burk filed a Charter Complaint, which the Municipal Court judge dismissed on the grounds that he lacked jurisdiction.

One of the charges in the three council members’ January 17 OMA complaint was dismissed immediately because the OMA didn’t even apply to it.  They claimed they hadn’t been provided with documentation prior to the hiring, which was true, but only because the town administrator hadn’t forwarded it and the three members never asked, despite having nearly three weeks of notice.

The other two charges were that the agenda of the meeting at which he was hired only mentioned Mr. Cicione, not his law firm, and that the four members of the majority had created a “rolling quorum,” which would mean that we communicated in a way that was essentially a secret Town Council meeting.  The Attorney General stated that the intent of the agenda was clear with just the applicant’s name.  Regarding the rolling quorum, the Attorney General found that whatever communications we may have had did not cross the line, especially because none of them included Mrs. Cook.  The fact that the complaint itself was filed by three council members shows that three council members can meet whenever they want.

Over the first seven months of the new council’s two-year term, a pattern has become clear.  People who disagree with our policies and beliefs attempt to turn every decision into a controversy.  Note that the three council members who filed the OMA complaint were in the majority on the last council, but voters took that power away from them.  Note also that Mr. Gilfillen ran unsuccessfully for Budget Committee and Mr. Paull and Mr. Burk lost in their own campaigns for the Town Council.

Rather than allow us to get into the groove of our elected offices and to prove that we deserve reelection just 17 months from now, a small group of residents has been engaging in a disruptive game of Gotcha.  This game has played out during our council meetings, on Facebook, and in whisper campaigns around town.  If, like the Attorney General and the Ethics Commission, the people of Tiverton review the facts and talk to us, they’ll see that there’s nothing to the accusations.

We were elected to shake things up a little in order to bring more transparency and stability to Tiverton government.  Identifying problems and developing a plan for the long term takes some time, but we’re well on our way.

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Justin Katz

Justin Katz, Vice President of the Tiverton Town Council, 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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