NEFAC, R.I. Advocates Seek Executive Order to Make Government Meetings More Accessible

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Calling it “a matter of great urgency,” ACCESS/RI, a group of open government organizations including the New England First Amendment Coalition, has called on R.I. Gov. Daniel McKee to reinstate an executive order that was in effect throughout the COVID pandemic until this past June, allowing for remote meetings of public bodies while requiring livestreaming and remote public participation.

In a letter sent to the governor today, the group — which also includes the ACLU of Rhode Island, Common Cause Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Press Association — pressed for the order as a health and safety measure necessary to ensure meaningful public participation in the political process.

Rhode Island currently has more COVID cases per capita than any other state, placing medically vulnerable residents and many others at great risk in attending meetings.

“This is a time when Rhode Island government at the state and local level faces numerous challenges — as well as numerous opportunities brought on by the substantial infusion of federal funds for multi-varied purposes,” according to the Dec. 21 letter. “The need for public oversight of the activities of public bodies is at its zenith. Yet many members of the public with a strong interest in watching and participating in government meetings find themselves, for genuine health and safety reasons, shut out of the process as public bodies grapple with those challenges and opportunities.”

“Democracy suffers when public bodies can meet without either the oversight or input that public attendance and participation can provide,” the groups wrote.

An executive order is both warranted and needed to ensure that the goal of the Open Meetings Act — to safeguard the ability of residents to “be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy” — is met in reality, not just theory, the groups explained.

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. The coalition regularly writes and joins advocacy letters in cases involving First Amendment freedoms and the public’s right to know about government. All coalition briefs, advocacy letters and statements can be found here.

Learn more about how NEFAC is helping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Leadership Circle donors for 2021 include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, WBUR-Boston, the Academy of New England Journalists, Genie Gannett and Linda Pizzuti Henry.