Tuftonboro Fire & Rescue Receives Recognition for Ice Rescue

From the Granite State News:

Members of the Tuftonboro Fire Rescue Department received a Unit Citation from the NH Fire and Emergency Medical Services Committee of Merit on Sept. 26 in Concord. They were rec- ognized for their efforts while performing an ice rescue with the air boat off the east end of Rattlesnake Island in Lake Winnipesaukee on Feb. 11. The Members were Lt. Chris Morgan, FF/ Paramedic Skip Galvin and Firefighter Kyle D. Williams. Members receiving recognition, from left to right, were FF Kyle D. Williams, FF/Paramedic Roswell “Skip” Galvin, and Lt. Christopher N. Morgan. Chief Adam L. Thompson was on hand to make the presentation to the members.

*Image of Tuftonboro Fire & Rescue members is from the Granite State News

What Carolyn Sundquist Knew

Click image to view email in PDF

Carolyn Sundquist knew that Tuftonboro selectmen could not legally charge an hourly fee for responding to Right to Know requests and that the town could charge only for “copy/paper fees.” She knew this long before she, as chair of the selectmen’s board, initiated a lawsuit against Bob McWhirter and me in an attempt to charge us for inspecting government records. The lawsuit would eventually cost the taxpayers about $20,000 (and counting — I’ll update you next week).

In a February 2016 email the selectmen’s administrative secretary, Karen Koch, wrote to Carolyn: “In terms of town’s [sic] charging an hourly rate for any research to be done, it is illegal to do so.” Karen wrote that this was based on a conversation she had had with Margaret Burns of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, and that “the only things that towns can legally charge for are copy/paper fees.”

Indicating that she had read Karen’s email and understood its content, Carolyn replied on February 27, 2016: “Thanks for checking with NHMA regarding minutes and charging for research. Would you please redo the sheet that list [sic] the charges for copies in a compatible format for inclusion in the copy policy we just approved. Note the changes regarding emailed copies and whatever else would need explanation.”

Carolyn’s own words show that she clearly understood no fees could be charged for “emailed copies,” but she (along with the other two selectmen, Lloyd Wood and Bill Marcussen) attempted to charge Bob McWhirter and me 25 cents per page to inspect emails. When we refused to pay that illegal fee (given the number of emails, it would’ve amounted to thousands of dollars), the selectmen sent sheriff’s deputies to our houses on a Sunday morning to serve us with a lawsuit.

As a result, we were forced to hire an attorney, a great expense, and to defend ourselves not only in Carroll County Superior Court but also in the court of public opinion. Just last week, the selectmen’s attorney, Richard Sager, publicly slandered Bob McWhirter in a Facebook post on the Tuftonboro Free Speech Forum Facebook group, which any resident of Tuftonboro can join: “Bob tags along behind Max like a little puppy dog, impugning my character by suggesting I would ever consider hiding ‘SECRET’ information. Get a life.” Sager then blamed Bob and me for the $20,000 that the selectmen paid Sager for the lawsuit and asserted that producing the emails was a “considerable expense to the town.” This is false, and Sager knows it’s false. Judge Amy Ignatius ruled on August 8 that there was no cost to the town for producing the emails.

 

The above-mentioned email, which the selectmen finally turned over to me last week, strongly suggests that Carolyn (and maybe Lloyd and Bill as well) acted in bad faith when suing us: They were attempting to collect a fee that Carolyn knew to be illegal.

Carolyn, Bill, and Lloyd are responsible for wasting around $20,000 in taxpayer money. Bob and I exercised our constitutional and statutory Right to Know, and we defended ourselves when the selectmen launched an abusive lawsuit against us.

Richard Sager Calls Bob McWhirter a “Puppy Dog,” Tells Him “Get a Life”

Richard Sager, of Sager & Smith in Ossipee, represented the Tuftonboro board of selectmen in their failed lawsuit against Bob McWhirter and me. The selectmen sued us after we made Right to Know requests, because they thought that they should be able to charge us a fee even though the law states clearly that they cannot. Carroll County Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius ruled on August 8 that the law, which states that “no fee shall be charged,” in fact means that “no fee shall be charged.” Despite this, as of today, the selectmen still have not provided us with any of the emails we requested. Bob made his Right to Know request almost a year ago, on October 17, 2016.

The selectmen have chosen to pay Sager $175 an hour to process the Right to Know requests, even though the town office staff could do it and we already pay their salaries.

Today, instead of providing us with the emails we have a constitutional right to see, Sager instead resorted to calling Bob names, and he also misrepresented the facts about the case. It’s not clear whether he will bill the town $175 an hour for his time composing this Facebook post:

The selectmen’s administrative secretary, Karen Koch, submitted written testimony to the court prior to the hearing that the number of emails responsive to Bob’s Right to Know request was between 740 and 760, not 13,000. My request for emails between Tuftonboro.org email addresses and the Granite State News covered 25 emails, not 13,000. I don’t know how many emails were responsive to my other request for Carolyn Sundquist’s emails between January 1, 2016, and February 29, 2016, because the selectmen never told me.

We did postpone the original hearing. The selectmen tried to push us into court right before Christmas. We had to hire an attorney and prepare a defense. We also both had plans for Christmas with family. Once we hired an attorney, the selectmen suddenly lost their zeal to see us in court. It was the selectmen who repeatedly postponed the hearing from January to June.

Richard Sager should apologize to Bob, and the selectmen should re-evaluate their relationship with him. Not only does he frequently act unprofessionally, but he has now lost several cases for the town in Superior Court.

Selectmen’s Noxious Lawsuit, Part of National Trend

“These lawsuits are an absurd practice and noxious to open government.” That’s how the Associated Press quotes University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters, speaking about a troubling trend in recent years of government bodies suing citizens who seek disclosure of public documents through open-records laws. You can read the whole article at AP (“Governments turn tables by suing public records requesters”).

I know all about these types of absurd lawsuits. Last year the Tuftonboro board of selectmen (at the time: Carolyn Sundquist, Lloyd Wood, and Bill Marcussen) sued me and Bob McWhirter when we requested to inspect government records. They spent around $20,000 (and counting) in a vain attempt to charge us $.25 per page to inspect the records, even though New Hampshire’s Right to Know law states that “no fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.” The selectmen’s attorney, Richard Sager, argued in court that the law doesn’t make sense because, if read literally, it meant that the selectmen couldn’t charge us a fee. And they wanted to charge us a fee.

They lost their lawsuit when Carroll County Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius ruled that they couldn’t charge us a fee. But as the AP quotes Mike Deshotels in its article, “You can lose even when you win.” Deshotels was sued by the Louisiana Department of Education when he requested school enrollment data. The DOE lost in court, like the Tuftonboro selectmen, but Deshotels incurred legal costs, like Bob and me, defending himself from an attack on his right to know what his government was doing.

These types of abusive lawsuits are happening all over the country, according to the AP. But in Michigan, the state House of Representatives unanimously (108–0) passed a bill this spring that would prohibit government bodies from suing citizens who are requesting documents. The bill needs to be passed by the Michigan Senate before becoming law.

Carolyn, Lloyd, Bill, and Chip spent $20,000 of your money in an effort to make it more difficult to get access to public records. Would they have done that if it was their own $20,000? It’s easy to spend other people’s money.

New Hampshire should make it illegal for government bodies to sue citizens who are requesting documents.

What Are They Hiding?

What could you do with $20,000? This past December, the Tuftonboro board of selectmen (at the time Carolyn Sundquist, Bill Marcussen, and Lloyd Wood) decided to spend what would end up being almost $20,000 of Tuftonboro taxpayers’ money on attorney fees paid to Richard Sager to pursue a lawsuit against Bob McWhirter and me for the “crime” of having made Right to Know requests to inspect government records. Our right to know what government officials are doing on our behalf is guaranteed by the New Hampshire constitution, and codified by RSA 91-A (the Right to Know law). I have that right to know, Bob has that right to know, and you have that right to know.

Rather than comply with the law, the selectmen chose to file a lawsuit against us — an action that is hard to interpret as anything other than an attempt to intimidate us and inflict personal financial harm. We are very grateful to the many fellow Tuftonboro residents who contributed to our defense fund, and also to our skillful attorney, Jim Cowles of Walker & Varney. The selectmen, bizarrely, filed a motion with the court to force us to reveal the “name, telephone number, address, and email address” of each of our benefactors. The court rejected this motion. Why would the selectmen want such personal information? I can think of no good reason.

The selectmen say that they were always willing to give us the government records — the emails. They just wanted to charge us a fee for them, even though the law states very clearly that “no fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.” Sager argued in court — unconvincingly — that this sentence in the law doesn’t make sense, because if read literally, it means the selectmen could not charge us a fee. Judge Ignatius agreed that the law, if read literally, means that “no fee shall be charged,” and she ruled on August 8 that the selectmen cannot, in fact, charge us a fee.

The reason this is important is that emails, being electronic, can contain a large number of pages. The selectmen wanted to charge us 25 cents per page, which would quickly turn into thousands of dollars. Records that you can inspect only after spending thousands of dollars are essentially records that you — and most people — will never be able to inspect.

Bob and I requested to inspect Carolyn Sundquist’s official emails because we and others in town suspected that she was making decisions about town business on her own (in violation of RSA 41:8), or with the other two selectmen but outside of public meetings (in violation of RSA 91-A). Our suspicious were confirmed when Guy Pike obtained 40 pages of emails concerning the Brown Road boulder fiasco. Those emails revealed that Carolyn had, apparently without the knowledge of the other selectmen, given Ted and Carol Steinman permission to block access to Lower Beech Pond, which is a state-own public body of water. The Steinmans followed Carolyn’s instructions and spent money placing boulders in the town’s right-of-way along the road. The current board then had to authorize the road agent to remove those boulders, which cost the taxpayers around $800. The Steinmans are now suing the town, disputing the boundaries of the right-of-way and alleging that the road agent trespassed. Perhaps they will win, or perhaps the town will win, but either way, it will probably cost taxpayers at least another $20,000 in fees to Richard Sager. All of this is due to Carolyn’s unilateral actions.

It makes you wonder what is in those emails Bob and I requested. Why were Carolyn and Bill and Lloyd willing to spend so much taxpayer money to make it nearly impossible to read them?

We still don’t know what’s in the emails. Even though Judge Ignatius ruled that the selectmen could not charge a fee for the electronic copies of the emails, and after eight months of legal entanglement, and almost an entire year after Bob first made his Right to Know request, the selectmen (now Lloyd Wood, Bill Marcussen, and Chip Albee) have, incredibly, still failed to turn over any of the emails that are in question.

Bob made his Right to Know request on October 17, 2016. The selectmen must comply with the New Hampshire constitution, with the Right to Know law (RSA 91-A), and with Judge Ignatius’s order. They must immediately — 11 months late — give us access to Carolyn Sundquist’s official emails.