BCWA Spent $65,000 to Fight Charges
Attorney General's Office finds in a 30-page mixed decision that the water authority did violate open meeting and public records laws.
The Bristol County Water Authority spent approximately $65,000 to defend itself against charges by a Barrington couple that it violated the state’s Open Meetings Act and Access to Public Records Act numerous times in recent years.
A host of those allegations, made by BCWA watchdogs Jeff and Janice Black of Colley Court, were supported by the RI Attorney General’s office in a 30-page decision released early last week.
In fact, the decision, written by Assistant Attorney General Michael Field, states the water authority “acknowledges its agendas violated the OMA.”
At the same time, however, Field said, many of the allegations were found not to be violations. He also said that there was “no evidence of a willfull or knowing violation.”
What is the water authority’s and the Blacks’ response to the mixed decision by the Attorney General’s office?
“It is a lot of money, and the violations were minimal,” said Pasquale DeLise, the outgoing executive director of the water authority, who provided the estimate of the legal expenses.
“Numerous violations were found,” the Blacks said in a written response sent to Patch by email. “Please keep in mind that ‘agenda’ is plural and numerous counts because the violations go back in time every month for years.”
“As a result of our complaint, BCWA had made many changes to become compliant with the applicable laws and more transparent,” they wrote.
The Blacks also said: “We remain extremely concerned about the manner in which BCWA and its representatives have treated the members of the public who have dared to speak out about the problems at BCWA. The public's concerns have been proven to be well-justified.
“We continue to hope that BCWA and its well-paid representatives will now begin to focus on solving the many problems at BCWA. We note that Mrs. (Sandra) Mack (outside attorney) could have saved BCWA a lot of legal expenses by simply advising them to comply with the laws in the first place.”
DeLise said the approximate $65,000 for legal fees was compiled from the time the case started in January, 2010, until it finished. He said he did not have an exact number on hand.
DeLise also said he was very happy that the case was over.
“The legal fees were taken from ratepayers,” he said, “but that excludes the staff time put into it. We spent weekends getting documents together to cater to the Blacks’ requests. It's not like they were asking for one piece of paper. I would say we sent out about 4,000 pages of documents for the Blacks, and it takes time. They were asking for documents for the last five, 10 years. It’s not like we have those things handy.”
Because the Attorney General’s office did not find a willful or knowing violation, it concluded also that “injunctive relief is not appropriate for several of the violations identified above.”
The Blacks seem satisfied that their effort to have changes made at the water authority have come to some fruition.
“Specifically, as a result of our AG complaint, it now appears that BCWA has begun to comply with APRA requirements.,” the Blacks said. “They now, finally, have a compliant-required APRA policy (published on their website); they have eliminated the old illegal agenda scheme. BCWA is, in effect, now ‘on notice’ so that future open government infractions might very well be more likely to be viewed as ‘willful and knowing’ than were these initial violations.”
“We are also pleased with the increased scrutiny by the Tri-Town councils; the new directors; the B&E Report recommendations; etc.” the Blacks wrote. “As you know, ‘the public’ - made up of many groups and individuals all working together for positive change - has been proven right about the need for change at BCWA.
“We remain hopeful that BCWA will continue to comply with applicable laws and, in the future, will treat the public in a more respectful manner. We also hope that they will realize that one hour of competent legal advice might be more cost-effective than a year and a half of picking up the pieces after the fact.”
“We did what we did to get the organization moving in the right direction,” said Janice Black before responding with her husband in the email. “We are a couple of people who are trying to make things better.”