Senate passes Ruggerio bill to improve transparency of I-195 Redevelopment Commission
STATE HOUSE – The Rhode Island Senate today unanimously passed legislation (2017-S-0850 Sub. A) by President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio to increase the transparency of the I-195 Redevelopment Commission, the panel charged with overseeing development of the prime downtown Providence real estate made available through the relocation of the highway.
“This is one of the state’s most important economic development commissions,” said President Ruggerio. “Yet they have gone into closed session at every single meeting for the past year. The public has a significant interest in the actions of the I-195 Commission. It is important that we narrow the existing law to ensure the board is operating in as transparent a manner as possible.”
The legislation significantly narrows the exemption to the open meetings act, which presently allows the commission to meet in closed, or executive, session whenever it discusses real estate. The provisions of the legislation permit executive session only when the commission’s negotiations will be adversely impacted by a public discussion. The more limited exception is intended to ensure that the business of the commission is conducted in public, open session as much as possible.
A new provision would require all executive sessions to be audio recorded. These recordings will be deemed public once the threat of impact on negotiations has passed.
The bill also precludes weekends and holidays from the 48-hour public meeting notification requirement. President Ruggerio noted that “public notices for Monday commission meetings are often posted late on the Friday before. This short, weekend notification minimizes the public awareness of, and participation in, commission activities.” Precluding weekends and holidays from the notice requirement addresses that concern, and also mirrors broader legislation (2017-S-0381, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey) to exclude weekends and holidays from the 48-hour notice requirement for all public bodies.
The I-195 transparency bill would also require the Commission to conduct training for new commission members, which would include training in ethics. It would mandate that the commission exercise its powers in a publicly accountable and transparent manner and that it exercise those powers in the best interests of the public.
The legislation is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D – Dist. 1, Providence) and Senators Frank S. Lombardi (D – Dist. 26, Cranston), Joshua Miller (D – Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), and Erin Lynch Prata (D – Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston). The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives.
For more information, contact:
Greg Pare, Press Secretary for the Senate
State House Room 314
Providence, RI 02903