All town boards and committees will be invited to a Right to Know presentation by the NH Municipal Association that Selectmen Josh Bartlett was charged to arrange on May 4th. The law can be very confusing, but it is the law and no one should enter public office in NH without a thorough understanding of it's requirements.
This is topical today because of late, we have had quite a few non public meetings , sometimes twice in one meeting. It is almost always for one of these five reasons: 91-A:3 II(a) personnel issues, 91-A:3 II(b)hiring of an employee or 91-A:3 II(c) reputation, 91-A:3 II(d) consideration of the acquisition, sale, or lease of real or personal property and 91-A:3 II(e) consideration or negotiation of pending claims or litigation.
There are actually five other specific reasons for non-public sessions which are far less common in Towns. ( Click here for a link to the statute.)
Other than these ten very specific reasons, there are no other exceptions in the open meeting law to enter into a non-public meeting.
The public body is required to state the specific reason(s) for entering into a non-public session ( one or more of the ten above) and "...shall state on its face the specific exemption" . The vote is always by role call and requires an affirmative majority.
To enter a non-public session, a board must already be in a properly-noticed public meeting. At the conclusion of the non-public meeting, the board goes back into public session and then can continue the public meeting or simply adjourn.
Minutes of non-public meetings must be available within 72 hours of the meeting if a 2/3 majority of the board did not vote to seal them. If sealed, then any information in the minutes is confidential. The disclosure of this confidential information is a violation of an official’s oath of office and they may be removed from office by a petition to the superior court per RSA 42:1-a.
With the advent of email (and text messaging) comes greater potential for Right to Know violations.
According to the NH Attorney General's office " E-mail use should be carefully limited to avoid an inadvertent meeting, albeit one where there is a failure to have a physical quorum at a noticed meeting place. Simultaneous e-mails sent to a quorum of a public body by a member discussing, proposing action on, or announcing how one will vote on a matter within the jurisdiction of the body would constitute an improper meeting. Sequential e-mail communications among members of a public body similarly should not be used to circumvent the public meeting requirement. For
example, e-mail among a quorum of members of a public body in a manner that does not constitute contemporaneous discussion or deliberation and does not involve matters over which the body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power does not technically constitute a meeting under the Right to-Know law. E-mail discussions of a quorum concerning matters over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power would run counter to its spirit and purpose. "
In essence, any time a majority of a public body communicates whether in person or via email to discuss the business of that public body, that’s a public meeting.