Rhode Island's Central Landfill says 'pay first, read later'

RIRRC sends the Johnston Sun Rise a $900 bill for documents following public records request


The Central Landfill wants the Johnston Sun Rise to pay $900, in advance, to search for documents that may (or may not) exist, detailing the past business relationship between Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) and  Johnston’s J.R. Vinagro Corp.

RIRRC’s recently resigned ex-Executive Director Joseph Reposa has been named CEO of Vinagro Corp., and took the job immediately after tendering his resignation at the landfill. His new employer, formerly known as Patriot Hauling Co., Inc., has also moved into Cardi Corporation’s Warwick headquarters, taking over the defunct bridge and road contractor (potentially leaving a long, expensive list of uncompleted taxpayer-funded projects in limbo).

Following six years running the Ocean State’s lone operating landfill in Johnston, Reposa acquired intimate knowledge of RIRRC, and his contract with the quasi-public state agency contained both non-disclosure and non-compete clauses.

Beacon Communications (publisher of the Johnston Sun Rise, Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald) submitted a public records request for “documentation linked to any payments, receipts, accounts payable, accounts receivable, contracts, projects or any other interaction between J.R. Vinagro Corporation and RIRRC during the tenure of (Reposa).”

“In response, Resource Recovery has performed the first hour of the search and retrieval process and identified that potentially responsive documents include thousands of items likely made up of email messages, scale tickets, invoices, checks, credit card transactions, bank statements, bid submitals (sic), staff memorandums, contracts, lease agreements, easements, deeds, meeting agendas, minutes, etc.,” Public Records Officer Jared Rhodes wrote in response to our request. “Many of these thousands of documents require manual retrieval. While it is difficult to estimate the time it would take to search and retrieve such an expansive request for documents, we are providing an initial conservative estimate of sixty (60) hours.”

Last month, Rhodes, who serves as Director of Policy and Programs at RIRRC, revealed his annual salary, $151,205.60, following a public records request by Beacon Communications (one of 13 requests filed with RIRRC since Reposa’s resignation).

Attorneys for RIRRC have insisted all inquiries follow official public records request procedure.

So far, records requests have revealed that Reposa was earning a $253,239.48 annual salary, plus a $25,000 annual performance bonus, before he quit and took the helm at Vinagro, a private company.

Rhodes estimated “the cost for search and retrieval efforts for these documents” at $15 per hour, “with the initial hour already expended being free.”

“Accordingly, please provide prepayment of $900.00 should you wish to continue with retrieval of these documents,” Rhodes wrote. “Pre-payment should be by check made payable to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation and should be mailed to my attention at the address provided below.”

Even if Beacon Communications foots the bill for document retrieval, Rhodes said there’s no guarantee the search will yield sharable results.

“Pre-payment is required prior to RIRRC engaging in further search and retrieval,” Rhodes wrote. “However, pre-payment does not guarantee that the records you have requested constitute public records (in whole or in part, i.e., redacted), but only authorizes RIRRC to conduct its search and retrieval to determine which exact responsive records exist and if so, whether they are public records.”

According to Rhodes, the $900 may not cover the entire tab.

“Should actual search and retrieval fees exceed pre-payment, RIRRC will seek your authorization as well as additional fees prior to continuing,” Rhodes wrote. “Should your pre-payment exceed actual search and retrieval costs you will, of course, be reimbursed.”

Requesting public records can be more of an art than a science. Perhaps the scope of the request was too broad. Rhodes suggested possibly paring it down.

“If you would prefer to narrow your search to a more defined type of documents, we will be happy to re-evaluate the estimate and provide you with an update,” Rhodes replied.

On Tuesday, Beacon Communications sent a thirteenth public records request to RIRRC, this time asking for documentation linked to “any payments from J.R. Vinagro Corporation to RIRRC” during Reposa’s tenure (although we have not withdrawn our initial public records request).

RIRRC also said they needed more time to complete the request (once pre-payment is received).

“Given the voluminous nature of this request and the difficulty of manual retrieval of certain records, the time for RIRRC to respond to this request is extended an additional twenty (20) business days … Notwithstanding this extension, the time-period for RIRRC to respond to your request is also tolled as of the date of this letter pending pre-payment and authorization to proceed,” Rhodes replied. “Of course, if you would prefer to narrow the scope of your request we can review whether a narrower scope of documents requested would take less time to search and retrieve.”

Last month, RIRRC refused several public records requests from Beacon Communications, providing legal explanations, including personnel privacy and attorney-client privilege. Most notably, they refused to provide documentation linked to alleged misconduct and a subsequent investigation, which was discussed during an executive session at the last RIRRC Board of Commissioners meeting.

Beacon Communications took RIRRC’s hefty demand for pre-payment and records request rejections to the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Open Government Unit and filed an official complaint.

Colleen Cole, administrative assistant in the AG’s Civil Division, notified RIRRC’s attorneys of the complaint Wednesday morning. Outside counsel for RIRRC, attorney Joseph J. Rodio Jr., confirmed receipt minutes later.

Part of the notification included a summation of Beacon Communication’s complaint, in a letter drafted by Special Assistant Attorney General Adam D. Roach.

“Enclosed please find an Access to Public Records Act (‘APRA’) complaint filed against … RIRRC,” Roach wrote to RIRRC’s attorneys. “(On Jan. 9) the Complainant alleges that the RIRRC violated the APRA by 1) assessing prepayment in response to his Jan. 2, 2024 request; and 2) withholding records in response to certain requests he submitted between Dec. 8-11, 2023.”

RIRRC has 10 days to respond. Beacon Communications then has five days to offer a rebuttal. Then the AG’s office will eventually make a determination whether the public has the right to see these documents.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here