August 11, 2014 09:46AM
By ELLYN SANTIAGO
Sun Staff Writer
Richmond Town Administrator Rob Rock said he would submit certification documents Tuesday to the state Office of the Attorney General to put the town into full compliance with the Access to Public Records Act.
A recent audit of open government practices in all Rhode Island cities and towns found that six municipalities, including Richmond and Charlestown, were in violation of a 2012 Access to Public Records Act amendment by failing to certify that they have any employees trained to handle public record requests, according to ACCESS/RI, a freedom of information coalition.
Rock said last week that there was no excuse for Richmond’s failure to get the certification, and that he himself intended to complete the online training and verification over the weekend. Rock will be the town employee responsible for handling all requests for access to public records.
“It’s going to be me that does it because, yes, the buck stops with me and for expedience,” he said. “Ultimately, being the town administrator, I should be the one handling these requests.”
In Charlestown, Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz said Town Clerk Amy Rose Weinreich had completed the training but “it was a matter that the attorney general was not officially notified.”
Linda Lotridge Levin, president of ACCESS/RI, said she found it “troubling” that municipalities have “employees who have technically received the training required by law but who have not filled out the necessary form to confirm their compliance with the training requirement.”
“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?” she asked.
The records act requires that each municipality must put in writing to the attorney general that “employees who have the authority to grant or deny persons or entities access to records have been provided orientation and training” on the requirements of the open record statute and that the person must submit to the attorney general a signed certification form confirming that they have been trained. Certifications must be submitted annually.
ACCESS/RI holds that “the certification requirement serves important purposes .... It ensures that public bodies have formally determined who within their agency has the responsibility for addressing APRA requests, and thus promotes public accountability and prevents situations where public bodies ‘lose’ requests when they are shuffled to different individuals in the absence of a clear chain of command.”
Rock agreed that the act is important both for journalists seeking public records and, more importantly, for the public to have full access.
“When a town isn’t forthcoming, it slows down the connection between residents and their government. We have the responsibility to get public information quickly and accurately. That’s the government’s responsibility to its residents,” Rock said.
As for Richmond, he said, “This should not have been an issue. It will be fixed.”
The other communities found to be noncompliant were East Greenwich, Johnston, Newport and Warren, according to ACCESS/RI.