Callanan Files Open Meetings Complaint Against Councilors-Elect

by | Nov 20, 2018

Above: The article about an interview on which Callanan centers his OMA complaint.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Charles Callanan, a Republican who lost his bid for a seat on the Town Council earlier this month, has filed a complaint with the state Attorney General’s office, accusing Renu Englehart, Mike Donegan and Mike Zarrella of violating the Open Meetings Act when they together answered questions from the press Friday, Nov. 9, three days after they were elected to the Town Council. (Find the full video of the press conference here.)

Callanan shared his letter on Facebook.

Chad Callanan

In the interests of total transparency. I’m not happy about how things are moving forward. It is categorically wrong to be discussing the town business in such a manner,” he wrote, linking to an article and accompanying video that appeared in East Greenwich News Nov. 14. The three councilors-elect were interviewed by Bob Plain of R.I. Future and this reporter.

The new Town Council will not be sworn in until Monday, Nov. 26, but according to a ruling issued by the Attorney General in 1997 (Schanck v. Glocester Town Council, OM 97-03), members-elect are subject to the Open Meetings Act. The Schanck v. Glocester ruling is not available online but it is referenced in The Valley Breeze vs. Cumberland Fire Committee OM 15-04 ruling.

Spokeswoman for the Attorney General, Amy Kempe, said Tuesday the letter had been received. The next step would be send out acknowledgement of receipt and to determine whether or not it the issue raised falls within the purview of the OMA. If it does, then an investigation would ensue. Rulings can take months.

The 2016-18 Town Council was found in violation of the Open Meetings Act seven times between June and August 2017.

On Tuesday, the councilors-elect mentioned in the complaint responded.

It is unfortunate that Chad chose this as his response to the results of the election,” said Mike Donegan via email. “Contrary to his beliefs, the interview occurred exactly as reported and the interview is available for all to see. Openly answering questions is exactly what I intend to do as your councilman.”

“I’m sorry that Mr. Callanan feels that the OMA was violated,” said Renu Englehart via email. “Considering we did not discuss business amongst ourselves, but simply answered questions, and the entire thing was filmed, I think that there is little doubt that this was not an OMA situation. I think this is the same as when the EG GOP was at Main Street Coffee after the election which included 3 sitting members of the current council waiting for election results.”

“The whole purpose of the Open Meeting Act is to make sure the public is informed,” said Mike Zarrella. “This was not a meeting under the law. This was an informational session in which the press asked us questions and which we answered so our constituents would know where we stand.”


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5 Comments

  1. Blue

    The filing of this OMA by Mr. Callanan further goes to show the complete lack of professionalism by members of the Republican Party in this town. Mr. Callanan is to quote my grandmother “a spoiled sport” who is not being a gracious loser. This “meeting” was clearly not a meeting but an interview given to local media. He needs to grow up.

    Reply
  2. Alan Clarke

    It’s interesting to note the different opinions on what is an Open Meetings violation or not. Issue is why the law was written: to stop secret stuff from going on. Pretty hard to keep something secret in an open filmed interview. It does appear that common sense seems to have flown out the window lately.
    Nonetheless, we on commissions have to be careful, even when no money is involved. If a minute matter of public policy is discussed while walking out the door after a meeting, it is probably good to discuss things while fresh in the minds of those involved. But it does get fuzzy if it constitutes an OM violation. Clearly, everyone dealing in public matters should read and understand the law and its restrictions. Unfortunately, not everyone takes the time. It would probably be a good idea to have the town solicitor give a mandatory short class in Open Meetings and then pass out a brochure with the information clearly in print. It is very easy to break laws these days — there are so many.

    Reply
  3. Steve Gregson

    From my experience.It’s all about notification for the public.Any time a majority of the council, school committee, or a sub committee are together and discuss “Town Business” the public is entitled to notification by law. The AG’s office will decide if Town business was discussed and whether or not notification was required.

    Reply
  4. Joseph A. O'Hara

    Chad:

    During the campaign, you rang my door bell and we had a brief and nice chat about what is going on in town and your thoughts and positions, etc. I believe that both the republicans and democrats who ran for Town Council are sincere individuals; but have different views and ideas on how town government should operate, etc. Having different views on issues is a “Good Thing”!

    Importantly and to address your concern, I agree with Renu Englehart’s comments, as stated in the “Post”, regarding your OMA complaint. So, for obvious reasons, I believe your OMA complaint is misplaced and you are stretching the “elastic band” too much to the point that “it will break”, and result in a non-issue.

    I would hope that all residents of EG will give the new Town Council a chance to succeed. If they do, that would be great. If they don’t, then the residents should bring their concerns to “light” and to the attention of the Town Council.

    The new Town Council hasn’t even been sworn in yet and with your OMA complaint, I believe some unnecessary “negativity”, etc. is already starting to ‘seep through’.

    So, with respect to you, those are my comments.

    Reply
  5. John Gaalt

    Double standard at work, methinks. Comments from these councilors-elect show limited understanding of purpose and application of OMA. Campaign talk is, well, just talk apparently. We gave another bunch of councilors-in-training.

    Reply

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