The ACLU of RI sent a letter to all RI municipal leaders reminding them of their obligation to help maintain government transparency in public meetings in accordance with Governor Raimondo’s recent Executive Order (EO), and supplemental guidance about the EO.
In an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, the recently released EO suspended certain provisions of the state’s Open Meetings Act, and most public bodies have since started holding their meetings remotely.
Responding to concerns raised by the ACLU of RI and Common Cause regarding the impact of the EO on government transparency, the Department of Administration (DOA) released important follow-up guidance outlining a number of steps that public bodies should take when conducting meetings remotely.
The ACLU of RI letter urged city and town leaders in RI to ensure that their municipalities’ public bodies are aware of, and conforming to, the new standards for transparency set forth by the EO and the Guidance, including:
Holding remote meetings only if they are necessary for continued government operations, requiring audio and/or video coverage of the meetings and suspending meetings when that coverage is interrupted, having meeting attendees identify themselves prior to speaking, and, where possible, posting on the public body’s website in advance any documents to be presented at the meeting.
The letter concluded by acknowledging the need for some flexibility in governance during this difficult period, but noted that “the public's right to oversee the work of its government officials and municipal bodies remains more critical than ever.” The ACLU sent the letter with the goal of helping to prevent any unintended violations of the EO and Guidance by public bodies.