At this point, the attempt of the RI Dept. of Transportation (RIDOT) to charge Republican State Representative Patricia Morgan (Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) $231 for the fulfillment of an information request is part of a clear pattern of unprofessional behavior toward this particular elected official. However, two points of broad interest arise from the controversy.
The first is the legalism that our current approach to the law enables:
“The law provides no exemption for state legislators, however it does provide for a waiver if requested,” [DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin] said. “Representative Morgan has requested a waiver and RIDOT will be granting that waiver and will not require payment.”
I’ve long complained that our good-government laws have had the effect of giving government officials an excuse to pretend as if writing down minimal requirements for transparency (or ethics, for that matter) means that all prior expectations for more than the minimum are suddenly wiped away, if not made illegal. Must it really be written down in the law that the people’s representatives should have access to information as part of the basic operation of government?
The second important observation is that RIDOT is claiming that it took 16 hours for state employees to compile a list of six months’ worth of change orders. Even if Morgan’s request was more detailed than the article makes it sound, how is that possible?
During the public battle over the toll-and-borrow RhodeWorks program, the public was assured repeatedly that RIDOT is running so much better now that it has a former labor union guy in charge that it’s barely fair to look at the agency’s long history of ineptitude. Shouldn’t such a well-redesigned machine have a running list of change orders, at a very minimum?