RIDOT’s Ongoing Public Records Issues Create Safety Concerns, Harm Transparency
Recent events involving the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) responses to APRA requests have raised concerns about its commitment to transparency and accountability. Refusal to provide accident data and excessive delays in producing public records undermine the public’s right to access information.
In the spirit of transparency and public accountability, the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) was enacted to ensure that the public has access to governmental records. However, recent events involving the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) have raised serious concerns about the department’s commitment to this principle.
RIDOT has been under scrutiny for its refusal to provide accident data to the Providence Streets Coalition, among other organizations, as part of APRA requests. This refusal not only undermines the spirit of the APRA law but also raises questions about the department’s operations and its regard for public safety. Local police departments, on the other hand, have had no issue releasing these records under APRA, calling RIDOT’s claim that accident data is not a public record into question.
Recently, Uprise RI requested the most recent ten traffic safety reviews on file that sought a reduction in speed limits. RIDOT billed for nearly six hours to produce these records. The amount of time needed was not only excessive but also indicative of a larger issue within the department. When RIDOT was asked to explain the excess time required, one reason given was that the personnel involved did not have access to Adobe Acrobat, creating a situation where staff had to manually review documents by hand to search for specific terms. Adobe Acrobat, critical software for anyone involved in public records requests, costs $12.99/mo. RIDOT’s 2023 budget exceeds $130 million.
These incidents form a pattern of behavior that suggests a lack of transparency and accountability to the public within RIDOT. Refusal to provide accident data, which most would consider an obvious public record, and the excessive time taken to produce public records they do release are not in line with the principles of APRA. These actions hinder the public’s right to access information, a right that is crucial for maintaining a transparent and accountable government.
The APRA law is not just about providing access to public records. It is about ensuring that government departments are held accountable for their actions, and that the public has the information necessary to make informed decisions and hold their government to account.
By refusing to provide accident data and taking an excessive amount of time to produce public records, RIDOT is not only failing to comply with the law but also failing those it is supposed to serve. The public has a right to know how their government operates, and they have a right to access information that affects their lives. RIDOT’s refusal to comply with APRA requests and/or “slow walk” production of records is a violation of these rights.