Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tuftonboro Selectmen Found to Have Violated Right to Know Law on Two of Nine Allegations, Plaintiff Awarded Costs

While the Carroll Coutny Superior Court did not order any remedial training for the Tuftonboro Selectmen on the Right to Know law, it did find in this December 10th ruling ( all 26 pages),  that it agreed with the plaintiff, Chris Sawyer on two of the nine violations alleged and in part on the remedies.
The court held hearings on the petition on September 8, 2015, and October 5, 2015 and reviewed post-hearing memoranda provided by both sides.
Congratulations to Ms Sawyer for putting herself on the front lines to fight for openness and transparency in local government and prevailing on some of the allegations. It is not easy and it remains to be seen if there will be a backlash from the BoS in Tuftonboro to further clamp down on public input and the public's Right to Know. At the very least, the Tuftonboro BoS should reinstate public comment at all their public meetings and make a meaningful effort to be as open and transparent as possible. As stated in the preamble to RSA 91A: "Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of this chapter is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people."
The following are the nine allegations, remedies and conclusion as ruled on by the court.

(1)  Adequacy of notice provided for meetings held on March 10, 2015, March 16, 2015, June 19, 2015, June 29, 2015, July 27, 2015, and August 3, 2015. Denied
(2)  Lawfulness of non­ public sessions with the Fire Chief and Police Chief on April 17, 2015, and May 1, 2015, respectively. Denied
(3)  Adequacy of notice provided for the public portion of the meeting held on April 17, 2015. Granted
(4)  Lawfulness of the review of properties to be deeded to the Town for non-payment of taxes during a non-public session held on May 18, 2015. Denied
(5)  Lawfulness of discussions relating to the proposed reorganization of the Transfer Station during a non-public session held on June 1, 2015. Granted
(6)  Lawfulness of the BOS's adoption of an electronic copy policy on August 7, 2015, and enforcement thereof. Denied
(7)  Lawfulness of the BOS's actions relative to making certain non-public, non-sealed minutes available for public review. Denied
(8)  Adequacy of notice relative to a non-public session and "work session" held on August 31, 2015. Denied
(9)  Lawfulness of the BOS's publication of minutes disclosing personal medical information, the identity of a recipient of Town assistance. Denied

Remedies

(1) An award of attorney's fees and costs-Request for costs is Granted, and her request for attorney's fees is Denied.
(2)  A court order enjoining future violations of the Right-to-Know Law and requiring the BOS to participate in remedial training at its own expense  Denied
(3) That the court  ask the New  Hampshire Attorney  General to investigate the  BOS's  Right-to-Know  Law violations.  Denied
(4) The BOS also requests an award of attorney's fees- Denied. "Although Sawyer raised certain arguments that were not based upon violations of RSA chapter 91-A, and certain arguments that were otherwise unsuccessful,  she raised several colorable claims under the statute."

Conclusion


     " For the foregoing reasons, Sawyer's petition is GRANTED to the extent is asserts that the BOS violated the Right-to-Know Law by: (1) failing to provide proper notice for the April 17, 2015 public session; and (2) improperly discussing the reorganization  of  the Transfer Station in a non-public session. Her petition is otherwise DENIED. The court GRANTS Sawyer's request for costs, but DENIES her remaining requests for relief. The court also DENIES the BOS's request for attorney's fees."



3 comments:

Joseph Cormier said...

The following is opinion not advice:

"How to use the NH Right To Know law" (RSA 91-A)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zoJJeJv9k8

NH Statute:
http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/NHTOC/NHTOC-VI-91-A.htm

2015 NH Attorney General Memorandum on RTK:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwikquPYwtfJAhVFJR4KHbZ4Cb8QFggcMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdoj.nh.gov%2Fcivil%2Fdocuments%2Fright-to-know.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHa1TfZBjGxHGi90MMCisIYZdGMRQ&sig2=m3wMeZ5GBTFqrf6d-vSfVg&bvm=bv.109910813,d.eWE&cad=rjaNH

Sample NH RTK request, but don't confuse FOIA ,Federal level request with Right To Know at NH state level.

http://responsibleenergyaction.com/sample-right-to-know-request

Federal FOIA:
http://www.foia.gov/how-to.html

Caveat: I put a request in to MoBo, a while back, and committed a faux pas. I thought nothing of delivering to the town and handing over and saying "You've been served!"

Bad move. I offended some town employees, inadvertently, and will perform differently in the future.

Mea Culpa!


Rick Heath said...

Its hard for me to believe that boards and committees have not figured out RTK Laws are real and meaningful. I guess I start to get suspect of these public "servants" and "volunteers" on boards who deny any public input to start with. That in and of itself makes them guilty of not wanting to hear from those "they serve". That trait, in my opinion, also relates to they not wanting you to hear all of their opinion. Hence the secret meetings. One could claim that these are slips in judgement but I maintain that there needs to be intention to not think about RTK Laws before one goes in that direction.
Suggestion to Joe: Don't Mea Culpa so easily. Any public "servant" who is offended by any comment as benign as what you said, ought to try working in the private sector for a change. Grin and freeking bear it.

Atticus Finch said...

Hmmm, maybe time for new town counsel in Tuftonboro? Seem to remember that he advised the boards that they were within the law on nimerous times. Wonder what his bill was?