“Secret Ballot” not allowed under state Open Meetings Law
By Will Collette
“Open and transparent government starts with open and transparent elections,”
- Charlestown Town Councilor Dan Slattery (CCA) at a Statehouse rally against the Master Lever, as quoted in the Providence Journal, March 14, 2013
|Forget about Sharia Law! Crocodile Dan Slattery wants Charlestown to|
adopt Australian law
Only two days before Slattery made these remarks, he pushed his Council colleagues to use what he described as “The Australian Ballot” to elect which of three applicants the Council would fill one vacancy on the Chariho School Committee. This happened at the March 11 Town Council meeting.
In secret, the councilors marked slips of paper picking their favorite among the three candidates. When the balloting was done, Town Council boss Tom Gentz (CCA) announced that Donna Chambers, a loyal CCA party acolyte, had received the majority of votes.
Which of the Councilors voted for which of the three candidates was not revealed. The vote tally was not actually revealed, although a reliable source tells me the vote was 3 to 2. You may guess that the three “Yes” votes for the spectacularly under-qualified Chambers came from the CCA Party’s three wise men on the Council – Gentz, Slattery and George Tremblay. You may also guess that the two “No” votes came from the two women on the Council, Lisa DiBello and Paula Andersen (D).
But you’d be guessing.
Former Town Council President (2002-2006) Deb Carney saw this for what it is: a clear-cut violation of the state Open Meetings Act. She filed a formal complaint with the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office on March 12. The full text of her complaint appears at the end of this article.
Carney notes that the use of a secret ballot is not even permitted in Executive Sessions. When the Council votes on a matter behind those closed doors, it must report the results of that vote when it returns to open session. There is no provision for secret ballots on any subject in open sessions of municipal legislatures – which is what our Town Council is.
|Carney calls the Council out for |
open meeting violation
If the Attorney General rules that the Council’s secret vote for Chambers was invalid, they may direct the Council to do it over. That’s what the AG did the last time they held the Council in violation of the Open Meetings Law.
On a do-over, the odds are pretty good that, once again, the three CCA Councilors will vote for the CCA partisan, even though by any reasonable measure, she is less qualified than the other two applicants (click here to read their applications so you can judge for yourself).
As I wrote in “To the Victors Go the Spoils,” this is what political parties do – and the CCA is an old-fashioned political party in all the ways that matter.
But when they re-do the vote, they will have to do so out in the open – just like the way Dan Slattery says elections should be conducted. Then, presumably, they can be held accountable for not selecting the best person for the position.
This is the second time the Town Council has used the illegal “Australian Ballot” to make appointments. They used this device to pick the members of the Town Administrator Search Committee that ended up picking new Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz as the replacement for Bill DiLibero. Readers will recall DiLibero was driven out of office by the CCA Party’s “Kill Bill” campaign.
No one filled a complaint against the “Australian Ballot” used at that time. They were warned by Evelyn Smith that their action was a likely Open Meetings Act violation. That incident is referred to in Carney’s Open Meetings complaint and may become part of the Attorney General’s review.
|Slattery loves open and transparent government -|
just not here
Councilors Slattery and Gentz are very big on preaching open and transparent government – as Slattery did once again when he grandstanded at the State House. However, they have been repeatedly nailed for violations of the state’s political transparency laws.
No matter how often Councilor Slattery sings “Waltzing Matilda,” it doesn’t make his Australian Ballot a proper way to conduct open and transparent government.
I asked former Council President Carney about her own track record during the four years she ran the Town Council. She said that while a few complaints were filed, not one single complaint stuck.
Click here for links to the state Open Meetings Law, the regulations and enforcement mechanisms.
Here is the text of Carney’s Open Meetings Act Complaint, filed with Assistant Attorney General in charge of open government Lisa Pinsonneault
Dear Ms. Pinsonneault,
On the selection of an appointee to a municipal committee, is it a violation of the RI Open Meetings Act for a public body (the Charlestown Town Council) to vote by secret ballot during an open meeting, and then not disclose how each member voted?
During the March 11, 2013 Charlestown Town Council meeting the town council discussed an item on the agenda to appoint someone to fill a vacancy on the Chariho Regional School District Committee.
There were three applicants for one vacancy. At the end of the discussion, one of the town councilors suggested they vote by secret ballot to see if there was consensus. Each councilor wrote a name on a piece of paper. The papers were then handed to the clerk, the Council President then announced the name of the person with the most votes.
There was no discussion of the vote count. There was no formal vote on appointing this individual. There was no statement of how each person voted. The name of the person who received the most secret votes was simply stated.
This appears to be a violation of the Open Meetings Act, especially since votes taken in Executive Session (which this was not) need to be disclosed along with how each individual member voted at the close of the executive session.
This open session vote was extremely secretive since no one in the public knows how each member voted, or even how many votes each candidate received. As a side note, this is not the first time the Charlestown Town Council has voted by "Australian" ballot (secret ballot), as noted by one of the town councilors during this discussion.
Charlestown utilizes the "Clerkbase" service in which meetings are recorded and can be viewed online at any time. The link is here.
The secret ballot vote occurs around the 1 hour and 10 minute mark.
This voting by secret ballot seems as though it is a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Please consider this email my Open Meetings Act violation complaint.