Our friends on the House Judiciary Subcommittee studying the best way to gut the Right to Know Law, RSA 91-A, have once again carved out a loophole for anyone wanting secret meetings for public officials.
Here is the language that has stopped the bill during the last two years they have tried this and failed:
“A chance, social, or other encounter not convened for the purpose of discussing or acting upon such matters shall not constitute a meeting if no decisions are made regarding such matters.”
“II. Communications outside a meeting, including, but not limited to, sequential communications among members of a public body, shall not be used to circumvent the spirit and purpose of this chapter as expressed in RSA 91-A: 1.”
There you have it! Sequential Meetings, where a secret quorum of members of a public body “talk things over,” are now “legal” as long as you don’t circumvent the spirit of the law. Now who would do that in this ethical world?
The spirit of the law is to NOT discuss issues the public body has control over outside of an advertised public meeting.
The Right to Know Commission must be very excited about this prize. They were once again willing to lose the entire bill they have been working on for four years just to get sequential meetings included.
I know who will NOT be happy. Here is a sample list:
1. Any candidate for school superintendent who finds out that several members of the school board or hiring committee had some “outside communications” with their favorite candidate over him.
2. Any equipment dealer who finds out that the road agent and several selectmen were having “outside communications” with a different dealer during the sealed bid process.
3. Any city councilors who find out that several other city councilors had “outside communications” with the city manager who just signed million dollar salary/retirement deals with some public employees behind their backs. (See Dover)
4. Taxpayers who find out several members of the conservation commission had “outside communications” with a certain landowner before a large easement purchase near thier homes.
And the list goes on.
I should not be too upset that the Judiciary Committee will once again support a bill that is blatantly unconstitutional, see Part I Article 8, because this will be a huge bonus to CNHT in membership, and more importantly, in activists.
Nothing, except maybe a bad computerized mass appraisal reassessment, spurs on angry taxpayers like a sneaky, conniving, group of local officials violating the Right to Know Law.
Governor Lynch should veto this bill if it gets past the Senate on the third try and send the Right to Know Commission back to the drawing board to do what the Commission was created to do. These people were tasked by the State Supreme Court with finding a way to keep private information Health and Human services keeps electronically from being released along with what HHS keeps that is public information.
Kudos to The NH Municipal Association for picking the proper RTKC lawyers to gut RSA 91-A. They are doing a bang up job.