Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 7, 2013

RI Supreme Court Holds Zoning Board Violated Open Meetings Act by Failing to Provide Adequate Notice to the Public

In November of 2008, the City of Newport received a letter from Congregation Jeshuat Israel requesting an extension the time to make improvements to its property that had previously been approved on the condition that the work would be completed in two years. The zoning board listed the extension request on its agenda as follows:

V. Communications

            Request for Extension from Turner Scott received 11/30/08

            Re: Petition of Congregation Jeshuat Israel   

 At the February 23, 2009 meeting, the zoning board voted unanimously to approve the request for an extension of time on the condition that the construction be completed by February 23, 2011 and that counsel for the Congregation would provide a written update. On August 21, 2009 the plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that the above agenda item violated the Rhode Island Open Meetings Act because it was a “vague and indefinite” notice to the public and one lacking in specificity. The plaintiffs requested injunctive relief and a declaration that the two-year extension be null and void and requested attorney’s fees and other relief deemed appropriate by the court.

The Superior Court said that the “notice” requirement in the Open Meetings Act is to fairly inform the public under the totality of the circumstances of the nature of the business to be conducted. That “public bodies shall give supplemental written public notice of any meeting within a minimum of 48 hours before the date. 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.” The court granted summary judgment in favor of City finding that the above agenda item sufficiently informed anyone who wanted to intervene in the proceedings, sufficient notice that the matter was going to be taken up, and that person should appear to assert his or her objections. The plaintiffs filed an appeal.

The Supreme Court of Rhode Island held that the agenda item “does not reasonably describe the purpose of the meeting or the action proposed to be taken under the standards established by the Open Meetings Act. The court found that the agenda item was completely silent as to which property was at issue; and the agenda item provided no information as to a street address, a parcel or lot number, or even an identifying petition or case number. Additionally, and detrimentally, the Court concluded that designating the agenda item under “Communications” does not even remotely indicate that any action will be taken with respect to the agenda item. The agenda item simply indicates that a communication had been received from Turner Scott regarding a petition. It further failed to provide any information as to exactly what the reason was for the requested extension or what would be its duration.

Anolik . v. Zoning Board of Review of the City of Newport , 2013 WL 1314947(R.I. 4/2/2013)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.courts.ri.gov/Courts/SupremeCourt/Opinions/12-76.pdf

 


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