CHARLESTOWN – The Charlestown Town Council violated the Open Meetings Act when it voted by secret ballot during an open session meeting in March, according to a recent finding by the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office.
On March 11, the council interviewed three candidates to fill a vacancy on the Chariho Regional School District Committee and then voted by secret paper ballot to appoint one of the candidates.
Deborah Carney sent a letter to the attorney general’s office dated March 12, alleging that the council violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA), as detailed in the finding of Assistant Attorney General Michael W. Field.
Carney then sent a subsequent letter to the attorney general dated April 14, stating that the alleged violation was “willful or knowing” because “three of the four current town council members were also members of a prior town council who were advised by a member of the public (and former town council member) that voting by secret ballot could be considered an OMA violation.”
In response to Carney’s complaint, Town Solicitor Peter D. Ruggiero submitted an affidavit to the attorney general’s office.
In the affidavit Ruggiero wrote, “[A]t the conclusion of the deliberations, one town council member suggested a paper ballot be taken and that the candidate with the most votes would obtain the appointment. Each town council member drafted their paper ballot in open session, handed their ballot to the deputy town clerk who opened the ballots in open session to determine whether any of the three candidates had garnered a majority vote.”
It was then announced that Donna Chambers was voted to fill the vacancy on the school committee.
According to Ruggiero’s affidavit, he then said that he brought the potential OMA violation to the council’s attention and the council addressed the concern at their next meeting, April 8, where each councilor disclosed for whom he or she voted. The vote was 4-1 for Donna Chambers.
According to the attorney general’s office, based on OMA, all votes that are cast in open session should be disclosed to the public as they are cast “thereby precluding a secret ballot vote,” Field wrote.
For the rest of this story, pick up the July 11 issue of the Chariho Times.