By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Town Solicitor David D’Agostino said the latest two Open Meetings Act violations – issued Friday by the state Attorney General’s office – were surprising and that he’s seeking clarification on one of them.
The violations concerned the failure to include discussion of restructuring (which resulted in job terminations) on the agenda for a Town Council executive session June 26, and the failure to properly notice a report about collective bargaining agreements during a regular meeting Aug. 28.
In an interview Tuesday, D’Agostino noted the AG’s office did not find the violations “willful and knowing.” That’s in contrast to Superior Court Judge Susan E. McGuirl’s rulings on five other OMA violations from last summer, which she did find willful and knowing.
D’Agostino said on the first violation, he was checking with the Attorney General’s office to see if they knew that one of the people who filed that complaint – former town manager assistant Pam Aveyard – had since filed suit against the town for wrongful termination.
“I’m not sure what impact the Aveyard civil action would have had on the Attorney General’s decision,” he said.
Although D’Agostino knew about Aveyard’s lawsuit (and different media outlets – including this one – had written about it), he said it was not his responsibility to notify the AG about it because he did not want to presume how the AG would rule.
“Me letting the Attorney General know beforehand may not have made any difference,” said D’Agostino. Still, he said, he wanted to know if the Attorney General’s office knew about the lawsuit before it made its ruling.
He did not explain what difference that might have made.
He said he also wanted to confirm that the council had already remedied that complaint. The council did vote on the reorganization plan at its meeting Nov. 20, which the AG’s response noted but D’Agostino said he still wanted clarification.
The second complaint concerned a 25-minute presentation to the Town Council on Aug. 28 – complete with Powerpoint – by an independent consultant from Ohio on the last two firefighter collective bargaining agreements that was not mentioned in the agenda but rather put forward in place of the town manager’s report.
D’Agostino argued that the town manager’s report had in the past “included various information from other departments.” But, he said, the AG probably found a problem with this particular use of the town manager’s report because it “was so segregated and went on for so long.”
He said based on what he now knows about the report in question, if asked for his opinion now he would probably counsel that the report be listed as a separate agenda item.
“You always learned from these experiences,” said D’Agostino. “The difference is you have to make a call at the time.”
Before June, the last time the Town Council was cited for an OMA violation was in 2005 (Tanner v. Town Council of the Town of East Greenwich). D’Agostino declined to comment on the unprecedented volume of violations – seven now – between June 19 and Aug. 28.
“In all fairness, the last OMA violation took place Aug. 28,” he said, adding that a lot had happened – pretty much complaint free – since then.