The Tuftonboro BoS filed a complaint in Carroll County Superior Court on December 7th, seeking the courts interpretation of how the town should proceed and how to respond with recent Right to Know requests made by two Tuftonboro residents. The RTK requests were made to inspect a large amount of emails. Tuftonboro has set a 25 cent per page charge, because they have to redact parts of the emails and to do that they need to print them out, black out the pertinent areas and then photocopy the documents to assure there is no bleed through.
Carroll County is also dealing with a large volume of data requested by Ed Comeau, who is also a member of the county delegation. He filed a RTK request back in September for a listing of dental benefits going back many years, who was actually eligible, who received dental care when they were ineligible, and what dollar amount was paid out on behalf of each employee.
Commissioner Babson suggested filing an Amicus Brief (someone who is not a party to a case and is not solicited by a party, but who assists a court by offering information that bears on the case) in the Tuftonboro action. He also mentioned that the information requested has been compiled, but has yet to be picked up by Comeau. After some discussion, no decision was made and they would await the hearing, now rescheduled until January 27th.
The RTK requests are vastly different, but the impact to the County and Tuftonboro is very similar. Both require a great deal of time and effort by public employees to fulfill these request in a reasonable amount of time.
At issue in both cases, is distrust of governmental entities and their employees. The difference lies in the motivation. There are a great deal of unknowns in what is happening in Tuftonboro and citizens feel they have been shut out of their local government and denied an opportunity to participate and be heard. When a BoS will not allow open and constructive interaction with taxpayers, these types of actions and growing distrust are inevitable.
At the County, the issue of erroneous dental premium payments going back a number of years was cleary not an intentional or criminal act. The NH DRA determined that the county has resolved the problem and the approval process has been addressed and fixed. The County recouped $19,000 from the insurance company under the three-month rule that allows employers to correct mistakes up to three months and receive a credit. Comeau's request was a publicity stunt in an election year. His email press release in September began with "When the people are afraid of their government there is tyranny, when the government is afraid of the people there is liberty."
In a social media post, Rep. Glenn Cordelli complained that "..Comm Babson complains about the time spent by an admin assistant in complying with a legal request for information that should not have been needed, but has NO problem with the County Administrator taking time off to attend a court hearing that in no way involves the county." Seems that his feud with the county will continue.
The County does indeed have an interest, and how the county administrator spends his time as an employee of the county who reports to the commissioners, is not the business of the delegation.
I await the courts decision as this is not settled law. Who should pay for copying records that are manually redacted? Should a governmental entity be required to use software to redact the records electronically? How should the emails be made available for inspection? These are all valid questions that the county is also dealing with, and we taxpayers are ultimately paying the bills.
Pursuing an issue that has been successfully resolved for purely political motivation is not good use of county staff time that are legally required to fulfill it. Not picking up requested information in a timely manner is also not good form.
On the other hand, a request by two citizens to get the BoS in their town to be more transparent, is a reasonable request, despite the volume of information and the time to produce it. Far better though, if the BoS and yes, some citizens, take a far less contentious approach in dealing with each other. Lawsuits and RTK requests should be a last resort.
As I wrote at the outset, these are very different issues. I do think though that the county does have an interest in the outcome, and the court may benefit in making it's decision to have that information.