Here is how the deal works regarding House Bill 1408 which is on the fast track to do two things:
- Gut RSA 91-A - The Right To Know Law.
- Become the largest membership drive The Coalition of NH Taxpayers ever had.
Some basics about RSA 91-A:
If you ask for public documents from an unwilling public body they play several cards. One is to delay the handing over of the documents until AFTER they may be helpful to the taxpayer requesting them.
Should you go to court, after weeks or months of asking for documents, they will magically appear the day before the hearing. With a straight face town or school counsel will tell a judge that they have already complied with the law so there is no case to be heard. I have had this happen in court more often than not. It is a standard technique of municipal counsel. Attorney Paul Apple of Upton and Hatfield used this ploy against The Windsor Coalition of Taxpayers in March of 2007. Attorney Matt Upton of the same firm tried this on me in 2005. Attorney Bob Bossie of Manchester used this trick in 1991 against me in Deering regarding bid-rigged bridge plans. It is standard operating procedure.
You have to remember, this is New Hampshire and we have one of the worst superior court systems in the country. It is an official laughing stock of self serving nit wits in black dress up. No brag, just fact. Municipal lawyers know there is no real penalty for hiding documents.
The dilemma for the newly formed Right to Know Commission which has been trying over the past five years to gut 91-A is, now that since withholding documents is for the most part not a problem, how to allow secret meetings. This is a problem because without the sacred secret meeting, many tax and spend municipal boards could not function the way they do now. Without bid rigging, selecting certain like-minded friends for positions, or cutting deals behind the backs of other people on the board, what fun would it be to hold office?
The Right to Know Commission tried, unsuccessfully, with HB 377 and HB 626 to actually write into the law ways for secret meeting to be held. They had language which said “outside communications” as they refer to them, can be held if someone keeps notes and lets the next meeting know what they were scheming. That blew up in their faces. What if the next meeting is an “outside communication” and the one after that?
Now in HB 1408 they just slide in some new language regarding the much anticipated “Outside Communications.” In a new paragraph, “outside communications” are allowed as long as they do not circumvent the “spirit of the law.”
This is really laughable and sad at the same time.
So now you catch a school board having a secret meeting such as the Strafford School Board did at a restaurant named Cassidy’s back in March. They met and drafted a letter to the community to support the $11.2 million dollar school that failed before and after this not so secret, secret meeting.
I had their secret e-mail thanking everyone for coming shortly after it was sent. CNHT winds up several of these emails every election cycle and always will. When you hide something from other members of a board they often get cranky and send evidence to the only organization in NH that will help - CNHT.
Here is why the RTKC wants to get “outside communications” in the statute BEFORE any language about penalties is adopted.
Say we catch, as we surely will, a school board meeting about, say, a certain engineer to hire for a new addition. They hold the meeting at “Cassidy’s” again and get caught by another potential bidder. All they have to do is say they had no idea they were “circumventing the spirit of the law.” A taxpayer bringing the case would have to prove otherwise, such as an admission, or letter saying “let’s circumvent the spirit of the law.” This is next to impossible.
If you think this is not going to happen then you have only to wait.
It will not be long.
But there is a new way to punish “outside communications” and it will be “outside the box” not in court.