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West Warwick again accused of violating state transparency laws

West Bay

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — For the second time in two weeks, and the third time in about a year, Rhode Island’s attorney general has found the town of West Warwick violated transparency laws.

Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office notified the town last Thursday of an alleged Open Meetings Act (OMA) violation in connection with three town council meetings from Dec. 11, 2018, to Jan. 8, 2019.

“In this case, over the course of three different meetings, the Town repeatedly included agenda items that did not provide adequate notice of the business to be discussed,” a letter to the town said.

The allegation was made in a complaint filed this year by Anna Spodnik, whose points of contention included “a lack of specificity” in some agenda postings, and no mention that a vote might take place in another instance.

The letter about the OMA violation states the attorney general will not file a civil suit in connection with the December and February meetings but stated, “with respect to the January meeting, our file remains open.”

“We have serious concerns regarding whether the Town’s violations were willful or knowing, and whether a civil lawsuit should be filed,” the letter said.

Town Solicitor Tim Williamson argued Spodnik had “no standing to raise any issue” about the notice or the agenda from the January and February meetings since she attended both of them.

(Spodnik was also the complainant in a 2018 violation where the attorney general ruled the town did not “adequately inform the public of the business to be discussed” during a council meeting involving “Ward Reports.”)

In an unrelated case, the attorney general sued the town earlier this month for allegedly violating the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) in connection with a 2018 records request.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Eric Wilson over his 2018 APRA to determine the amount of money owed by West Warwick per year since 1983 in its sewerage system agreement with Coventry.

In Wilson’s case, the attorney general asked the court to order West Warwick to release the requested documents.

Neither Williamson nor Town Council President David Gosselin has responded to requests for comment.

Spodnik said the three recent complaints are only a sample of an ongoing problem in West Warwick.

“The town council has been told over and over again by me, at meetings and in complaints, that they refuse to abide by the OMA,” Spodnik said. “They were given copies of the OMA and not one of them bothered to read the document.”

Walt Buteau (wbuteau@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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