RI General Assembly Open Public Meetings SurveyA report on which members of the General Assembly hold regular public meetings with constituents
Summary of Our Findings
From the beginning, the goal of RI Rank has been to encourage accountability by the members of our General Assembly. This includes not only a voting record that stands with the common good, but also responsiveness to the community, and most importantly, a member's constituents. This survey aims to identify those of our state legislators that hold themselves accountable to their voters by holding town hall or coffee hour-style meetings regularly, that are open to and advertised to the general public. For this survey we measured the number of meetings each legislator held in 2019.
Based on simple observation over time, we expected the list would be short but in the Senate, it was shockingly short - just two sitting Senators held any town halls or coffee hour meetings with constituents during 2019. Fortunately, those that did held them frequently. In the House, the numbers were proportionately as dismal with just 4 members responding to our survey indicating they held open, publicly advertised meetings in their district.
By the Numbers
Total Members of the General Assembly
Senators Holding at Least One Open Meeting in 2019
Representatives Holding at Least One Open Meeting in 2019
The two senators who reported verifiable publicly open and announced meetings with constituents are both among the newest members of the GA. Conservative lawmaker Jessica de la Cruz held 11 meetings (one each month starting in February, typically called "Coffee with Jess") with constituents at local coffee shops in her district. On the opposite side of the political spectrum, progressive Sam Bell held 6 open meetings with constituents (roughly once per month starting mid-year).
The lower chamber had four members who reported verifiable open meetings held in 2019. Terri Cortvriend led the field with thirteen meetings, typically referred to as "Talks with Terri." Rebecca Kislak held seven "Coffee with Rebecca" meetings throughout the year. Jason Knight held two public town-hall meetings, one in each of the towns he represents. Rounding out the list, Susan Donovan held one open meeting in 2019 at the town library towards the end of the legislative session in June.
How We Surveyed
Due to the vast number of avenues in which legislators could advertise their constituent meetings, it was not feasible to research and obtain the meeting data ourselves, as we've done with other segments. For this metric, we relied on self-reporting from legislators and then verified those claims.
Each legislator was emailed at their official General Assembly address. We identified ourselves as representing RI Rank. We asked if they held open meetings with constituents that were 1) announced publicly, 2) open to the public. We followed up with those who did not respond with a second email to ensure they had the opportunity to report their meetings. Our email indicated that it was not necessary to respond if they did not conduct any such meetings 2019.
Allowable announcement venues included social media (Facebook, Twitter) and local free newspapers (Barrington Times, Valley Breeze, etc.). We did not allow postcards, emails, or flyers to serve as valid notice because these are not public and provide a means for legislators to pick and choose their audience. Additionally, meetings had to be completely open to the public - meetings with specific groups such as senior centers and chambers of commerce were not eligible. Meetings that involved any form of campaigning or fundraising were not eligible.
Verification for announcements on social media was straightforward. For instances that required more details (newspaper ads/announcements), we requested the approximate dates and publications where the announcement(s) ran. Most had no problem furnishing the dates and/or copies of the announcements/ad pages themselves. However, some claimed meetings were held that we were not able to verify because the legislator did not provide sufficient details to do so - even after we followed up multiple times. While this report will not be changed to reflect verification data received after its publication, we have given additional time to legislators to substantiate their reports in time for our Overall Rankings release in two weeks.