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ICE detainees can stay at Wyatt while lawsuit talks underway; Wyatt board holds emergency meeting 9am Sunday morning



Mere days after being found in violation of the Open Meetings Act, the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC), now operating under a new board of directors, has once more violated the spirit, if not the letter of the law. The CFDFC oversees operations at the Donald W Wyatt Detention Facility, a for-profit prison in Central Falls.

On Sunday morning, at a hastily scheduled 9am meeting, the CFDFC met to discuss the recent lawsuit against the board, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, and members of the Central Falls City Council by the bondholders who invested in the for-profit prison to the tune of $130 million. At that meeting the board voted to stay the suspension of the facility’s contract with the United States Marshall Service to house United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees as part of President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance southwest border policy.

Joseph Molina Flynn

“The Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation’s Board convened an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss ongoing litigation,” said recently elected Board Chair Joseph Molina Flynn in a statement. “As a result of that discussion, the Board voted to stay the suspension of our contract with ICE. This vote was made to comply with a Federal Court directive and to show good faith as we enter a Court ordered mediation process, which begins today, with bond holders.”

The Rhode Island Secretary of State‘s Open Meetings Portal shows that Sunday morning’s meeting was filed at 1:26pm on Friday, April 12, as an emergency meeting. Under the Open Meetings Act, an emergency meeting can be held, under certain circumstances, without 48 hours notice. Whether or not the reason given for the emergency meeting are adequate is unknown, since there were, as far as I can tell, no reporters or members of the public at the meeting and the minutes of the meeting are not available.

I’ve written to the CFDFC spokesperson and secretary for more clarification on this, and have not yet heard back.

Can we please ask a favor?

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On April 12 the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office ruled that the CFDFC had violated the Open Meetings Act on January 22 by scheduling an emergency meeting with a vague description of why the meeting was necessary. In the Providence Journal piece by Kevin Andrade, Central Falls City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk is quoted as saying, “Major decisions impacting institutions in the city need to be done in accordance with the Open Meetings Act so the public can have time and opportunity to participate in those important discussions.”

The agenda for Sunday morning’s emergency meeting is equally vague, saying only that the board was meeting to discuss “litigation.” The possibility that the board would be voting to stay the suspension of the facility’s contract with ICE is not mentioned in the notice.

When Joseph Molina Flynn and Herman Yip were added to the CFDFC board, people were hopeful that the CFDFC would be run in a more open and transparent way. It is a shame that this has not happened.

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.