PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office has begun a formal review after the state Republican Party accused the state redistricting commission of multiple Open Meeting Act violations.
In a letter dated Jan. 21, Special Assistant Attorney General Adam Roach gave the commission five business days to respond to the complaint, including to explain whether the commission “disputes that it is subject to the OMA.”
The GOP’s complaint alleges the commission violated the OMA when it voted on new congressional and state House and Senate boundaries earlier this month.
The complaint also alleges the commission failed to provide minutes from previous meetings in the required timeframe and failed to post notice of meetings 48 hours ahead of time.
In a statement last week accompanying the complaint, R.I. Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki called on Neronha to “hold the commission accountable by filing a court action.”
“It should determine that the commission knowingly and willfully violate the Open Meetings Act, and then seek to fine the commission, its officers, and any commissioner who engaged in a rolling quorum,” she said.
In the letter to the commission, Roach also asked the commission’s clerk “to address the anticipated timeframe of its substantive work and process going forward, including any applicable deadlines,” and when the General Assembly might take action on the proposals.
Neronha’s decision in this case could address lingering questions about whether or not the commission must adhere to the OMA. In 1999, then-Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse determined the General Assembly was not subject to the law.
While the redistricting commission is an arm of the legislature, the law that created the commission states it “shall be subject” to the OMA.
In a statement, Neronha said his office treats “all open government complaints, from whatever the source, the same way.”
“That is, they are assigned to the career lawyers in our open government unit for review under the applicable law and, ultimately, decision,” Neronha said. “That is the process being utilized here.”
In a joint statement last week, spokespersons for House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio dismissed the complaint as “politically motivated and meritless.”
“The commission conducted 18 public hearings, all televised live, and even Rep. Brian Newberry, a Republican commission member, has praised the open and transparent nature of the meetings,” they said.
“The process is not completed – the recommendations of the commission have been forwarded to the House and Senate, which will continue to hold committee hearings where the public can once again provide testimony,” they added.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report