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Rhode Island public records audit shows 77 percent compliance rate

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Rhode Island public records audit shows 77 percent compliance rate

  • Most state agencies complied with Common Cause of Rhode Island’s public records audit, which sought under the state Access to Public Records Act a complete listing of employees, job titles and salaries.

March 18, 2004 — Seventy-seven percent of those queried in a statewide open records audit of Rhode Island public agencies complied with the state’s public records law. Results from the audit were released Monday.

The Rhode Island offices of Common Cause, a national nonprofit public watchdog group, teamed up with the Rhode Island Public Policy Institute in October 2003 and sent identical public records requests to 137 state agencies, departments, administrative boards and commissions, and school districts. The request letters sought a complete listing of employees, their job titles and salaries.

“Full compliance,” or public officials disclosing the records within 10 days, was achieved in 58 percent of requests, while an additional 19 percent complied within 30 days.

According to Rhode Island’s Access to Public Records Act, public record requests must be filled within 10 business days. With reasons of “good cause,” the deadline can be extended to 30 days.

Seven percent of those queried filled requests within 30 days, but supplied incomplete information or data not filed electronically, as requested. Four percent of agencies submitted data late, and 14 percent have not yet complied with the public records requests. According to the report, among the public bodies that have not responded are the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy and the Block Island School Department.

“A number of agencies seemed annoyed or indifferent about their obligation to provide public records upon lawful request,” according to the 45-page report. “Eight of 137 agencies have offered no meaningful response to our request. It appears that only increased fines will get their attention.”

The University of Rhode Island had the top three salary-earners in the 2003 fiscal year, with men’s basketball coach Jim Baron earning a state-high $255,000 a year. Gov. Donald L. Carcieri earned an annual salary of $105,194.

H. Philip West Jr., executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said the audit was a partial victory in that most agencies provided the data free. West added that a complete victory would be if the data were posted online and regularly updated.

Although the Access to Public Records Act permits agencies to collect “a reasonable charge” for gathering and disseminating public records, only eight of the 137 agencies audited levied fees, which ranged from $45 to $90. Gerard DeCelles, town solicitor for North Smithfield, requested $195 for the data, an amount West deemed inappropriate.

Another official, the Tiverton town administrator, responded to the records request well after the deadline and sought $285 for the basic payroll data, according to West. The administrator cited “20 hours of work” to gather the information.

“We would have obviously rejected that charge as unreasonable as well,” West said. “If they charge that kind of money, then ordinary citizens simply can’t get access to information about employees in their town.”

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