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Study shows agencies routinely break Open Meetings Law

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Study shows agencies routinely break Open Meetings Law

  • A Brown University study shows that quasi-public state agencies are failing to file records of their meetings.

Sep. 16, 2003 — A recent Brown University study found that most public agencies in Rhode Island fail to comply with one of the state’s most basic public disclosure laws.

The study, published this month by the Taubman Center for Public Policy, focused on 23 quasi-public state agencies and concluded that most rarely or never made records of their meetings public in 2002, a requirement under the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Moreover, the study found that not a single agency analyzed in the report submitted all of its minutes on time. Under state law, public agencies are required to submit their minutes to the Secretary of State’s Office within 35 days of the meeting. At least six agencies did not submit any minutes in 2002.

Quasi-public agencies in Rhode Island perform basic government functions, like managing the state’s landfills, sewage treatment plants, bus systems and airports.

“They do everything you would expect a government entity to do, but they don’t receive half as much scrutiny as the executive agencies,” Providence Journal reporter Edward Fitzpatrick told News Media Update.

The Brown report also revealed a large discrepancy in the amount of information different agencies chose to include in their reports, which ranged from less than one page to as many as 48. The study pointed to past financial abuses and inappropriate personnel practices within quasi-public agencies as the impetus behind the project.

“Given a history of scandal behind quasi-publics, monitoring their behavior will be paramount,” the report stated.

According to Secretary of State Matt Brown, who praised the study, agencies will be required by law to file their minutes electronically as of July 2004.

“There is a reason these laws are in place,” he told the Journal. “The public has a right to know what’s going on.”

MC


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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