The RI ACLU charged today that the Central Falls Receiver is conducting illegal meetings in running the City’s affairs under the state law authorizing his appointment. The claim is contained in a letter that the ACLU sent Receiver Robert Flanders, Jr. earlier this month after his enactment, and then suspension, of an ordinance restricting on-street parking in the city. 

After receiving numerous complaints from city residents about the ordinance, the ACLU reviewed the meeting minutes where it was officially approved and learned that the Receiver was not even present at the meetings. Instead, his staff members conducted the agenda’s business.

In a letter sent to the Receiver on January 11th, to which no response has been received, RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown argued that this practice exceeded both the powers granted him by state law and the R.I. Supreme Court opinion that generally upheld the constitutionality of that law. Specifically, in rejecting arguments that the statute gave the Receiver “excessive” powers, the R.I. Supreme Court explained that the statute “provides only that the receiver may exercise the powers of an authority or office to the limits of that authority or office, and no further.”

The ACLU’s letter noted:

Thus, the Court has made clear that, in enacting ordinances for the City, the receiver is obligated to act within the limits that would be imposed on the City Council itself.  However, Council members have no legal authority to designate delegates to act in their place. Similarly, we do not believe you have any such authority in the role of receiver. . .

Although this might seem like a technicality, it is actually a very crucial and basic limitation on the receiver’s powers. Third parties, including staff members, simply should not be able to formally exercise the extraordinary powers that have been given the receiver – in this case the actual passage of an ordinance at a public meeting – whether in a pro forma capacity or not. . .

It is difficult and painful enough that the residents of Central Falls have been left without any democratic representation for an indefinite period of time. We trust you agree that if a receiver is to take the place of their elected representatives in running the City, it is the receiver who should actually be doing so at the meetings which are required to be held for the conduct of city business.

The RI ACLU, which testified against passage of the receivership statute in 2010 on the grounds that it disenfranchised an entire electorate, is considering legal action to challenge this current practice.