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ACLU Of RI Urges Compliance With Open Meetings Act in Letter to City Council Ordinance Committee

Posted: May 01, 2017|Category: Open Government

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The ACLU of Rhode Island today sent a letter to the Ordinance Committee of the Providence City Council in response to a resolution to establish a working group to ensure proper implementation and enforcement of the Community Safety Act (CSA) ordinance.  The letter raised a few concerns, most notably the resolution's proposal that the working group be permitted to 'enter executive session,' in possible violation of Rhode Island's Open Meetings Act.

Three years in the making, the CSA seeks to curb racial profiling by increasing police transparency and accountability.  Submitted at last week's City Council meeting, on the heels of strong opposition to the CSA from the Providence Police Department and a subsequent vote to table the ordinance until June 1, 2017, the resolution establishes a working group.

In the letter to the Ordinance Committee, the ACLU of RI noted that the working group would be a "public body subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA)." The letter called into question language in the resolution allowing the working group to "enter executive session," arguing that nothing the group might discuss would fit within OMA exemptions permitting private sessions. 

"This is precisely why the Open Meetings Act exists – to allow the public access to this sort of discussion," said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of RI. "If this working group is ultimately meant to serve the public, then we have a right to know what the group talks about when it meets and how it reaches its recommendations regarding revisions to the Community Safety Act," he continued.

The letter urged deleting that part of the resolution, arguing that the proposed language would give group members the impression that they could meet in private - in violation of the OMA.

Full text of the letter is available here.

The resolution can be found here.

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