Council clarifies rule after public outcry

By Jacob Marrocco
Posted 4/26/17

By JACOB MARROCCO The Cranston City Council meeting on Monday was supposed to be centered on the Doric Park resolution, but after that was pulled a new issue caused a brief stir. Members of the public were concerned with the wording in Rule 41 of the

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Council clarifies rule after public outcry

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The Cranston City Council meeting on Monday was supposed to be centered on the Doric Park resolution, but after that was pulled a new issue caused a brief stir.

Members of the public were concerned with the wording in Rule 41 of the proposed Council rules for 2017-19, which appeared to prevent the recording of meetings.

“When the City Council or a Council Committee is in session in the Council Chambers, there will be no use of cell phones or electronic pagers, audio/visual equipment, or other device, without express approval by the presiding Council Member,” the rule originally stated. “Private discussions should be kept to a respectful tone so as to not disturb the proceedings. The presiding officer shall warn those disturbing the proceedings to be respectful and considerate of those attending to the business of the meeting.”

Council Vice President Michael Favicchio attempted to allay worries right out of the gate, saying that it was a “scrivener’s error” and that his intention was never to violate the open meetings law. He said it was meant to address anyone using equipment to play a video or speech during the meeting that would disrupt proceedings or violate fire code.

“In no way, shape or form have we attempted to stop the recording of a meeting,” Favicchio said. “Anyone can come here and speak, we have the right to ask questions. I just want everyone to know that we’re going to make a slight amendment that videotaping is fine. We just want to have orderly control if someone is bringing in something offensive or causes a problem for fire or police officials.”

The council did indeed make an amendment to the rules to clarify the language. Council Majority Leader Christopher Paplauskas proposed an amendment to add the word “presentation” after audio/visual.

He also added a sentence stating that, “Under no circumstances would recording be prohibited unless it violates fire code.” Those passed 8-1, with City-wide Councilman John Lanni Jr., being the only dissenter.

Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley proposed a change to the line concerning cell phone and electronic pager use, saying that it was “unclear.” Council President Michael Farina’s solution was to add “in a manner that is audible to others,” outlining that cell phone conversations, for example, in the Chambers would be restricted.

That amendment was passed unanimously.

While the necessary changes were made, speakers from the public were distraught with the original wording of the rule as several stepped up to the podium.

“I was dismayed when I saw the rule on the docket,” John Patrick Donegan said. “I think that the administration and the council has a serious problem with transparency, like not videotaping committee meetings where things are made. It’s good to have more people involved. It’s good for democracy when you have an informed public. I appreciate you amending the rule, but it speaks to the issue the public has because there is a serious trust issue.”

Suzanne Arena had her phone out to record the meeting, and she also took a turn at the podium to express her displeasure. She warned the Council to be more diligent with its wording to avoid issues like this.

“I have to be very careful about how I put documents together,” Arena said. “I intentionally or not intentionally put things in there.”

She was also in favor of the idea of trying to find a way to film subcommittee meetings. In terms of recording those meetings, Farina said, “We’ll look at the cost to if it’s something we can work in.”

Every full council meeting is recorded and, since November, has been uploaded in full to its page on Vimeo.

“I think we should encourage transparency at all levels,” Robert Santurri, Jr., said. “Not everyone can always stay until 11 at some of these meetings and they go pretty long sometimes. I think it’s great that they go online and I think that something that got brought to my attention is the committee meetings aren’t filmed either. Maybe something to consider so that they can be online as well especially since not everyone can make it to these meetings.”

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