There is a right to know dust up between the Tuftonboro BoS and two residents, Max Ledoux and Bob McWhirter and it centers around emails. It's a bit complicated.
McWhirter's request was for email correspondence received by or sent to selectmen or office administrators between Jan. 1 and Oct. 17 2016, and Budget Committee Chairman Carla Looten's email correspondence with the town from Dec. 1, 2015 to Nov. 15, 2016.
Ledoux's request was for any and all emails from/to Granite State News reporter Elissa Paquette , the editor of the paper,Thomas Beeler and the Tuftonboro office manager from Jan. 1 to Nov. 17 2016.
I am not aware of why these requests were made or what specifically they were seeking. The RTK law does not require a reason for any request.
There were 18 emails in total that were found for Ledoux's request. Some that did not need redaction were sent electronically to Ledoux. There were 26 pages that were printed and manually redacted. Per Tuftonboro town policy, they charge a fee of 25 cents per page for copies, so a charge of $6.50 was made to provide the copies. Therein lies the problem. Ledoux didn't ask for copies and only requested to inspect the emails.
The BoS have determined that the emails need to be reviewed to remove exempt information, and to assure that they are free of personal information. In order to safely redact the emails , they had to be printed, blacked out and then photo copied to assure that the wording redacted could not be deciphered. Hence the need per the town for the 26 photocopies and the 25 cent per page charge. All told, including McWhirter's request, there are approximately 11,000 pages. Ledoux argued at a recent BoS meeting that Adobe Acrobat could electronically redact the information making it impossible to be recreated.
Max Ledoux has also argued that he should not have to pay for copies he did not request, and that the BoS are using this cost to illegally charge Bob McWhirter an exorbitant amount of money. The BoS position is that they are trying to comply with the request, but it is very time consuming and labor intensive and decided to turn the matter and process over to town counsel Richard Sager.
That gets us to the Superior Court complaint. On December 7th, attorney Sager filed a complaint in Superior Court against Max Ledoux and Bob McWhirter , out of concern that the town would be sued for the 25 cent per page charge as they continue to refuse to provide the redacted pages for free. In essence, Tuftonboro is seeking the courts interpretation of how the town should proceed and how to respond with the Right to Know law to the citizens requests.
On the Tuftonboro Free Speech Forum, Ledoux posted the complaint , with the preface " Are you interested in how our beautiful town is run? A word of caution: don't open your mouth or the selectmen will drag you into court." Some on the forum saw it a retaliation and at least one other felt that it was reasonable to charge 25 cents a page as it " prevents someone from running up a huge paper bill for the town by requesting thousands of pages." Per the complaint, the cost using the town's methodology could be as high as $12,800 not including the cost for legal review.
Attorney Sager commented on the forum that he expects the town to comply with whatever the court orders.
My take on this is that it is breaking new ground in terms of governmental records as they pertain to the RTK law. There is a cost in both staff time and materials, and it is not unreasonable, being a selectman and taxpayer, to be concerned about that. On the other hand, legal requests were made and the RTK law requires that they be fulfilled. How to do that is the conundrum and it is not quite as simple and straightforward as Max Ledoux would seem to suggest. Will they set a precedent for future requests? Can a town charge for copies of printouts or even the printouts themselves of emails to allow for public inspection? I don't see that as retaliation. How the court handles this complaint will set a legal precedent, and I for one await the decision.
All that being said, there is apparently a lot going on beneath the surface in Tuftonboro which seems to have precipitated the email requests. Distrust, anger, and accusations make a working relationship between concerned citizens and the BoS very difficult. Both sides need to lighten up a bit and not make the assumption that the other is always out to get them.