State of Rhode Island



150 South Main Street- Providence, Rl 02903

(401) 274-4400


Peter F. Neronha


Attorney General





September 22, 2023

OM 23-20




Stephen J. Angell, Esquire

Legal Counsel, Coventry Town Council



Re: Anonymous v. Coventry Town Council   


We have completed our investigation into the Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) Complaint filed by an anonymous member of the public (“Complainant”) against the Coventry Town Council (“Council”). For the reasons set forth herein, we find the Council violated the OMA.   




The Complainant alleges that the Council violated the OMA by providing inadequate supplemental notice relative to its March 14, 2023 meeting. Specifically, the Complainant contends that the agenda included an item titled “Update of Stephen J. Angell, Esq. – Town Solicitor” and “lack[ed] any specific details describing what the ‘update’ [was] about.” Included in the Complaint is a link to the relevant meeting minutes and agenda, a link to a YouTube video of the meeting, and a “transcript” of the remarks made by the Town Solicitor.


Attorney Stephen J. Angell submitted a response on behalf of the Council. The Council concedes that “[t]he agenda did not list any specifics under the Solicitor’s update, which is, in essence, the [Council’s] responsibility to provide.” The Council explains that terms such as “Town Manger update (sic),” and “Finance Director update” serve as “placeholders for the Clerk to utilize” if certain “department heads” wish to provide an update at a Council meeting. If that is the case, “specific items” will be listed in association with each department head’s update. In this instance, the Council contends that there was no intention for the Solicitor to “provide any update” as to the agenda item in question. Due to “extenuating circumstances” and the Solicitor’s “overzealous[ness] in … keep[ing] the public informed,” the Solicitor offered comments under the “Update” agenda item. The Solicitor’s comments concerned a “long-anticipated ‘show cause’ hearing concerning a business in Town” that had caused some confusion. The Solicitor’s remarks were intended to “provide the Council with clarity” on this subject. The Council asserts that it was “never [its] intention to willfully, knowingly or otherwise violate the OMA.”


Relevant Law and Findings


When we examine an OMA complaint, our authority is to determine whether a violation of the OMA has occurred. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-8. In doing so, we must begin with the plain language of the OMA and relevant caselaw interpreting this statute.


The OMA requires that all public bodies provide supplemental public notice of all meetings at least forty-eight (48) hours in advance of the meeting. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-6(b). “This notice shall include the date the notice was posted, the date, time and place of the meeting, and a statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed.” Id. (emphasis added).


In Tanner v. Town of East Greenwich, the Rhode Island Supreme Court examined the OMA’s requirement that a public notice contain “a statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed.” 880 A.2d 784 (R.I. 2005). The Court determined that the agenda item “Interviews for Potential Boards and Commission Appointments” did not adequately apprise the public of the nature of the business to be discussed at a Town Council meeting. In that case, after conducting interviews as indicated on the notice, the Town Council proceeded to vote to appoint various individuals to the planning and zoning boards for the Town and the Court determined that the agenda item failed to provide notice that the Town would vote on appointments. Id. at 798.


The Court concluded that although the standard is “somewhat flexible,” the contents of the notice “reasonably must describe the purpose of the meeting or the action proposed to be taken.” Id. at 797-98. The Court determined the appropriate inquiry is “whether the [public] notice provided by the [public body] fairly informed the public, under the totality of the circumstances, of the nature of the business to be conducted.” Id.see also Anolik v. Zoning Board of Review of the City of Newport, 64 A.3d 1171, 1173 (R.I. 2013) (holding R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-6(b) requires the “public body to provide fair notice to the public under the circumstance, or such notice based on the totality of the circumstances as would fairly inform the public of the nature of the business to be discussed or acted upon”).


We have previously determined that public bodies violate the OMA by posting broad and insufficient agenda items such as “Tax Collector’s Report,” “Treasurer's Report,” “Chief’s Report,” “Committee Reports,” “Old Business,” and “New Business.” These broad agenda items typically fail to “fairly inform the public of the nature of the business to be discussed or acted upon.” Spodnik v. West Warwick, OM 19-28; Beagan v. Albion Fire District, OM 10-27.


In Castelli v. Coventry Town Council, OM 20-32, this Office found that an agenda item reading “District One Update by Councilwoman Dickson” violated the OMA because it did not provide any information regarding the subject matter of the “update” or what would be discussed about District One pursuant to the agenda item. This Office noted that the agenda item did not give the public notice that the Councilwoman would discuss the formation of a Coventry Charter Review Study Group, or that she would “[report] on a ‘community forum.’” Id. Accordingly, the “agenda item failed to fairly encompass and provide notice of the substance of what would be discussed.” Id.


Here, based on the undisputed evidence, the agenda did not provide notice that the Solicitor would make comments regarding the show cause hearing that he discussed during the meeting.  We find that the subject agenda item failed to fairly encompass and provide notice of the substance of what would be discussed by the Town Solicitor, and that the Council violated the OMA. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-6(b); Castelli, OM 20-32. 




The OMA provides that the Office of the Attorney General may institute an action in Superior Court for violations of the OMA. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-8(a), (e). The Superior Court may issue injunctive relief and declare null and void any actions of the public body found to be in violation of the OMA. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-8(d). Additionally, the Superior Court may impose fines of up to $5,000 against a public body found to have committed a willful or knowing violation of the OMA. Id.


Injunctive relief is not appropriate here because the Council took no action in connection with the pertinent agenda item. We have also not been presented with sufficient evidence that the violation found herein was willful or knowing under these circumstances. The Council states that it “recognize[s] the spirit and letter of the OMA” and, importantly, has “reinforced … the concept that items to be discussed by the Council shall be stated on the agenda with enough particularity so as to give the public notice of the items to be discussed. Otherwise, the item(s) should not be discussed.” However, this finding may serve as evidence of a willful or knowing violation in a future, similar case.


Although the Office of the Attorney General will not file suit in this matter, please be advised that nothing within the OMA prohibits an individual from instituting an action for injunctive or declaratory relief in Superior Court. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-8(c). The OMA allows the Complainant to file a complaint within ninety (90) days from the date of the Attorney General’s closing of the complaint or within one hundred eighty (180) days of the alleged violation, whichever occurs later. See id. Please be advised that we are closing these Complaints as of the date of this letter.


We thank you for your interest in keeping government open and accountable to the public.







By: /s/ Adam D. Roach

Adam D. Roach

Special Assistant Attorney General




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