Many legislators and elected officials love to tell you what they are doing for their constituents. Most don't want you to see HOW they do it. That is why we have a Right to Know Law (91-A) which is an extension of our Part I Article Eight NH Constitutional right to attend public meetings...but not for long if HB 626 is any indication.
This bill is the brainchild of one of those popular “commissions” stacked with partisans with a plan. In this case it was to gut the Right to Know law with language just fuzzy enough to sound intelligent but on the other hand not likely to trigger outright laughter.
They have found the perfect formula, “outside meetings.”
It sounds great to elected officials to not have to show up at meetings any longer and to from now on be able to conduct public business by email on your laptop. So many public officials are for this bill.
Lawyers should also be for this bill as it will create a deluge of suits seeking public records on personal computers when:
One member of the secret email meeting gets his nose out of joint and surrenders all the confidential public documents he has saved to the public as an act of revenge.
Several members of a public body discover a small cabal of members of their group is making decisions on the side.
An internet provider glitch causes one or two members of the new “outside meetings” to not get all the secrete public documents everyone else has.
Or just as a vote is to be taken after months of meetings some member says, “When did we discuss that issue. I was never informed?”
As a taxpayer activist I have the position this time of being in a no lose position. CNHT has repeatedly warned people about this bill. If it passes we will have in very short order a new issue comparable to eminent domain and the view tax. This issue will go right to the heart of local government where we do business. It serves only the people most likely to abuse it. And it will divide the good from the bad on zoning boards, school boards, select boards and committees.
Where are the state's illustrious news organizations when their access to public records is in trouble? Are they planning a free link to the outside meetings by email? Or will they have to go out and hire reporters who are as good at digging up public records as the activists I work with. Good luck!
One more bonus.
Can a taxpayer request access to all emails on an elected official's personal computer once he or she is found to have violated the Right to Know Law? Remember how the Exeter School District erased all their requested computer records to avoid complying with a court ruling against them?
I can't wait to find out. I recommend pumping up the “legal” line item on the town and school warrants this year.
And don't forget to thank The NH Municipal Association for finding the perfect attorneys to create this bill. One is Peter Smith of Durham who was on the Durham Town Council in 2003 when they were caught using email over an eleven hour period to hire a new employee. It was reported in Fosters Daily Democrat that Attorney Smith was going to get together with NHMA and work on the Right to Know law. It seems their idea of fixing the law is in the same fashion you would “fix” a male cat.
Another Right to Know “fixing” NHMA toadie is Attorney John Lassey of Deering. Anyone interested in reviewing some astonishing zoning nitwittery need only look at the history of the Deering Zoning Board since this legal mind became chairman of it.
I wonder if HB 626 will have a recorded vote in the House? I guess we will see. Or not.