Tourism Board must turn over records in Filippi case, Attorney General says

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 10:45am

The Block Island Tourism Council allegedly met in secret to force out former President Steve Filippi last year, and will have to turn over all communications related to the matter, State Attorney General Peter Neronha said in a report released on Tuesday.

It found the board had violated the Access to Public Records Act, and demanded the release of all related records.

The report says that both the board itself and each individual member is required to provide written and electronic data, including e-mails and notes, within two weeks or face fines of up to $2,000. It also was “very concerned” that “rather than cooperating with this Office’s investigation, the Council refused to provide information regarding whether such records exist and are maintained by the council members.”

In response, Filippi wants all members of the board to resign.

“Our precious community has zero tolerance for dishonesty and illegal meetings by its public officials. We are calling on the Tourism Council members to do the right thing and immediately resign from their positions,” Filippi said Friday.

The matter is related to a television appearance by Filippi during the early days of the pandemic promoting the island as being “fully open for business,” which members of the board claimed broke a board agreement to limit communications while controversial policies were being set by the Town Council. Filippi, owner of Ballard’s Beach Resort, countered that he was speaking as a private citizen and an independent business person.

Shortly after the WJAR appearance on June 11 last year, Filippi said he received a letter via email – a copy of which he provided to The Block Island Times - ending with the first names of all the members of the board chastising him for his appearance, saying that he was walking “a fine line between what is best for our business and our role as board members…you have crossed the line.”

The letter said that Filippi had not tried to “straighten this matter out,” leading to their asking for his resignation.

Filippi filed a complaint with the attorney general about the secrecy behind the process a week later, and the attorney general’s office proceeded to ask the council for related information.

Board attorney Robert Goldberg responded to the attorney general’s initial request for data that no such letter existed, and that no records held by the council came under the requests for data.

The attorney general’s report concluded that the letter, provided by Filippi, along with the communications leading up to it, constituted private meetings of the board, illegal under state law.

Executive Director Jessica Willi had no comment about the ruling, but has previously denied any wrongdoing. She said the Board’s lawyer would provide a statement later. Other members of the board who signed the letter were Second Vice President (now President) David Houseman, Secretary Julie Kiley, Vice President John Cullen, Treasurer Julie Fuller and members Logan Mott Chase and Zena Clark.