PROVIDENCE – Six Rhode Island municipalities and 10 state and quasi-public agencies are in violation of the state’s Access to Public Records Act, according to an audit performed by the Access/RI nonprofit coalition and MuckRock collaborative news site and public records request platform.
The APRA requires that “all officers and employees who have the authority to grant or deny persons or entities access to records … have been provided orientation and training” on the open record statute, and that each agency submit a statement to the attorney general’s office verifying that the training was performed.
Access/RI and MuckRock audited attorney general records and found that for six communities – Charlestown, East Greenwich, Johnston, Newport, Richmond and Warren – no record existed of any municipal employee being certified in APRA requirements for either 2013 or 2014, meaning it is unknown whether employees in these municipalities were trained or not.
In addition, 10 of 24 state and quasi-public agencies lacked appropriate records of employee APRA certification, including the General Assembly, the R.I. Airport Corporation, Board of Elections, Department of Administration, Department of Business Regulation, Department of Corrections, Department of Education, Department of Labor and Training, Office of the Auditor General, and the R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation.
“Although hundreds of people attend every year, it is quite possible that the open government summit includes attendees from some agencies that do not have any certification listed with the attorney general’s office,” said Linda Lotridge Levin, president of Access/RI. “If they have neglected that requirement, how confident can the public be about their implementation of the substantive provisions of APRA when dealing with formal requests for records?”
Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said in response to the audit that municipalities and agencies cited as being in violation of APRA did send representatives to last year’s Open Government Summit and received APRA training, but may not have submitted the appropriate form to the attorney general’s office certifying that they are qualified to handle APRA requests. The requirement that state employees resubmit the certification form every year was added under APRA amendments made in 2012, Kempe said, and not all employees may be aware of the change.
This year’s Open Government Summit was held Friday morning and attended by more than 650 people, said Kempe.
“It’s clear that public bodies and state agencies take APRA very seriously,” she said. “They want to be in compliance, and…I’m confident that any individual or public body that was unaware that they needed to provide the form every single year is aware now.”
In reporting the findings of the audit, Access/RI issued a release stating that the attorney general should make a public record of public agencies that don’t comply with the APRA certification requirement, and that any public body without APRA-certified employees found to have committed an APRA violation “should be deemed to have engaged in a knowing and willful violation of the law.”
The penalty for such a violation, if affirmed by a Superior Court finding, is a fine of up to $2,000 against the public agency.
The Access/RI and MuckRock audit was conducted as part of a broader audit to be released later this year of state and local agency compliance with APRA amendments approved in 2012, the Rhode Island nonprofit coalition said.