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Statement from ACCESS/RI Regarding Open Records Complaint Findings

Posted: June 15, 2015|Category: Open Government

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Late last Friday, the Attorney General’s office issued opinions on ACCESS/RI complaints against 14 state and municipal agencies for violating the state’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA), finding that 12 of the 14 agencies had violated the law. Of those 12 agencies, 10 were deemed to have committed more than one APRA violation. “We are pleased the Attorney General agreed with us in the majority of our complaints,” says Linda Lotridge Levin, President of ACCESS/RI. She continued, “It is worth noting that these complaints represent just a sampling of the dozens of violations discovered during our 2014 audit of 39 cities and towns and 24 state agencies.”

ACCESS/RI, a coalition of organizations dedicated to open government that includes the ACLU of Rhode Island, had filed complaints against the West Warwick, Newport and East Greenwich School Departments; the towns of Warren and Scituate; the West Greenwich, New Shoreham, Charlestown, Cumberland, Providence, and Warren Police Departments, and four state agencies; the Department of Corrections, the Department of Labor and Training, the Auditor General, and the Rhode Island State Police. All but the New Shoreham and Providence Police Departments were found to have violated the law. Only in five instances did the Attorney General take the next step in requesting further explanation in order to determine if penalties should be levied: the East Greenwich School Department, Office of Auditor General, Town of Warren, Warren Police Department, and the West Warwick School Department.

While ACCESS/RI is pleased that the Attorney General concurred with the majority of our allegations of APRA violations, in four of the five instances where the AG has asked agencies to respond to the findings of violations, they have been asked to address only their delays in responding to requests, and not violations in failing to certify public records officers or to post their APRA procedures online as required by law. Further, the Attorney General ruled that when an agency’s response to a request is in violation of the law, they can absolve themselves of responsibility for the violations by pointing out after the fact that another entity is responsible for handling APRA requests.

“ACCESS/RI was particularly distressed with the Attorney General’s statement that the volume of complaints we filed means that ‘limited resources cannot simultaneously be dedicated to other pending open government matters’,” continues Levin. She concludes, “Such a response makes light of the tremendous severity of the problem of APRA non-compliance that our audit found.”

While ACCESS/RI hopes that further action will at least be taken against the five agencies that are being scrutinized further, the fact that the Attorney General found so many of our complaints valid demonstrates the need for much stronger enforcement of the law than currently exists.

ACCESS/RI is a 501(c)(3) coalition of non-profit organizations and First Amendment advocates in the state dedicated to ensuring government at all levels be accessible to the public. Founded in 1996, ACCESS/RI stands for “All Citizens Committed to Ending Secrecy within our State.” Member organizations include the Rhode Island Press Association, the ACLU of Rhode Island, Common Cause Rhode Island, the Rhode Island League of Women Voters and the Rhode Island Library Association along with journalism professors, television journalists and other First Amendment Advocates.

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