Please Sir, May I have A Copy

It’s officially “Right to Know Month” here in New Hampshire folks! Well, sort of.

The Neighborhood News Group still goes out and asks for public information just as a test. Recently they visited several municipalities hoping to get a look at the tax liens.

Story here:  http://cs.newhampshire.com/blogs/salem_observer/default.aspx

In Salem NH the Tax Collector had this to say:

Cheryl-Ann Bolouk, tax collector in Salem, who called the request “totally inappropriate,” said she would be contacting an attorney to see what her options were.

Bolouk said many people do not consider their property tax payment to be public information, and described the paper’s request as an invasion of privacy.

“This will bring on a line of angry people,” Bolouk said, “and I’m going to give them your name as a contact.”

Cherly-Ann used the old fallback position of “angry people” (taxpayers-citizens) invading her space as one reason to avoid giving public documents to a newspaper.

Bolouk also said her office had been threatened in the past, and with the recent shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, she said she can’t predict the behavior of the public.

“I’m not about to be shot at because of this,” she added.

Some seasoned public officials objectify their clients as being halfwits who just can’t comprehend how hard they work for the town. And these halfwits who pay the taxes to run the place can be dangerous to work with. When you work behind the counter at a town hall long enough it seems you rise to a higher plane of existence than the rest of the crowd.

Next is Hooksett.

Kimberly Blichmann, Hooksett’s tax collector, said the information requested by Neighborhood News is available to the public, but not something they like to release. She requested that the paper file a formal Right-to-Know request, as did the towns of Goffstown, Salem and Bedford.

Kimberly had the newspaper sign a written request for the documents but the law doesn’t require one. Hooksett just “likes” to ask for a formal request.

I wonder if the Town of Hooksett knows that asking for formal written requests actually creates more public documents which have to be stored and are themselves retrievable? Oh well.

Someone get Sue a Valentines Day card!

In Goffstown, Town Administrator Sue Desruisseaux said tax payment information is fair game for the public.

“It’s public information,” she said. “Some towns actually publish that information in their town reports.”

Desruisseaux said people should be able to know if residents or property owners aren’t paying their taxes, because they are an important source of revenue and, ultimately, affect a town’s tax rate.

The bully boy in Bedford had this to sneer:

“If we have to create (a report for) the information, you’re going to have to wait,” said Bedford Town Manager Russell Marcoux.

Marcoux said requests for information have gotten totally out of hand, and the office staff in Bedford often has to choose between doing their regular jobs and putting together information.

I always like the reference to “the regular job” of a town manager or other public official in regards to RSA 91-A. Since The Right to Know Law stems directly from the NH Constitution and is a basic right of NH citizens, what exactly is the regular job of a town manager? Maybe we need to tighten up the legal definition of town managers in this state. They seem to drift from state to state and town to town. The Coalition of NH Taxpayers is the only group I know of trying to keep track of them – and keep them honest.

But the bully boy wasn’t finished:

Marcoux is wary of requests for information because he isn’t always sure that reporters are who they say they are, he said.

“We’re asked for all kinds of information, and for some of it, I’ve never seen it in the paper,” he said, leaving him to wonder if the information released is being used for other purposes.

Marcoux should think about taking a course on how not to make an ass of oneself during interviews.

While we are on the subject of 91-A some other cases of conflict are notable.

The Josiah Bartlett Center has been having a tough time of it gathering data from for public policy studies.

The Union Leader has had a time of it as well getting data from the NH Retirement System, even after a court case releasing the information.

The Local Government Center (also known as: NHMA) is holding up the Professional Firefighters Assoc. for documents regarding how they handle the organizations insurance. The NH Supreme Court weighed in on that case and ruled in the firefighters behalf.

In Atkinson our CNHT photographer, Gary Brownfield, was stopped from taking pictures during a deliberative session three years ago by a moderator who just didn’t want his picture taken. That case is still in court.

There’s nothing like denying a Constitutional right to separate the lowly taxpaying public and professional public officials from the Municipal Messiahs.

I have a suggestion for any news organization in NH in regards to the Right to Know Law.

Try going to Windsor, NH and asking for some records like CNHT has done - and gone to court twice, successfully, to acquire.

Some of the records, like the Town's professional audit of seven years of books, ordered by the DRA, which suggested a crimminal investigation, might not be exactly in the Windsor Town Hall because the Attorney General's Office hauled them away in several cruisers a while back.

So you may have to ask the AG for the copies they are sitting on.