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Open meetings law complaint rejected

May 24, 2013

Committee did not hold secret, rolling quorum

PROVIDENCE—Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin’s Office issued its decision Monday regarding North Kingstown School Committee member William Mudge’s September 2012 complaint that his colleagues violated open meetings laws (OMA) when calling an Aug. 27, 2012 emergency meeting. The gathering to address committee members about the pending strike of the school’s Educational Support Union (NKESP), alleges Mudge, was unnecessary and a violation of the OMA, a point which the Attorney General’s Office’s rejects.

The Attorney General’s findings state that the school committee did not in fact violate any OMA laws when it held an emergency meeting on Aug. 27, 2012 to discuss the unexpected threat from the NKESP to go on strike with school beginning the next day. The strike stemmed from Superintendent of Schools Philip Auger’s plans to outsource jobs of NKESP members, who count for administrative and custodial staff at North Kingstown’s schools, to the Cleveland-based company GCA Services.
Committee Chair Kimberly Page and Clerk Lauren Berglund both provided testimony stating that they had contacted Mudge and the other school committee members regarding the unexpected meeting on Aug. 27, 2012, as required by Rhode Island state law, and that the meeting was posted on the Secretary of State’s website as soon as practicable.
“The OMA also contains a so-called ‘emergency meeting provision’ that allows a meeting to convene with less than [48] hours notice when it is ‘necessary to address an unexpected occurrence that requires immediate action to protect the public’,” read the Attorney General’s decision. “Based on the evidence submitted, this Department has been provided sufficient evidence to show that the emergency meeting was the result of an ‘unexpected occurrence that required immediate action to protect the public.’”
Mudge had further alleged in his complaint that fellow committee members violated the OMA by holding a ‘secret’ or ‘rolling’ quorum regarding NKESP contract negotiations through discussions and email exchanges dating back to March 13, 2012. The Attorney General’s Office rejected this claim as well after receiving affidavits from school committee members John Boscardin, Larry Ceresi, Lynda Avanzato and former member Richard Welch denying such contacts, as well as from Attorney Katherine J. Duncanson, the committee’s legal counsel.
“There was no ‘secret agreement’ or collusion on the part of any school committee members and members of the administration to form a ‘secret rotating quorum’ to negotiate with the NKESP,” read Duncanson’s testimony. “Mr. Mudge offers no evidence that such an agreement exists. He only offers his own suspicious theories without any single piece of proof to support it.”
The Attorney General’s decision agrees with Mudge that three members of the school committee met, either in person or through email communication, and discussed the negotiations, but reiterated that three members out of seven does not constitute a rolling quorum.
Mudge responded to the Attorney General’s decision, defending his position that the Aug. 27 meeting was not an emergency.
“Through this whole iteration, I do not feel that the School Committee bargained in good faith with the union,” said Mudge. “We had all summer to negotiate and we didn’t, so how could you call the meeting an emergency?”
According to the Attorney General’s May 20 decision, Mudge has 90 days from the closing of the complaint to appeal to for injunctive or declaratory relief in Superior Court. Mudge is undecided whether he will take any action.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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