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.

Selectmen’s Meeting, 8-28-17

0:00:00 Pledge
0:01:15 DEPARTMENT UPDATES
0:01:20 Chief Thompson (Fire & Rescue)
$1753 repair cost for mirror lake station repair (Struck by lightning) Chief says don’t file insurance claim
0:04:50 Roof was spongy as far as roofwise
0:10:40 FD employees were paid for directing traffic during 5K race.
0:19:25 LIBRARY TRUSTEES
0:22:10 Chip: I’m surprised. I thought this plan would be closer to Skip’s plan. Not saying I’m disappointed.
0:25:05 Gordon: Initial estimate was $1.9 million. We’re working with SMP & Bouen to reduce that to $1,882,000
0:28:05 current library funds: more than $700,000
0:31:25 Chip: Encourage you to get more bids for construction management
0:39:55 Helen Hartshorn: What about the wetlands?
0:40:35 Carla Lootens: No, seriously, what about the wetlands?
0:43:28 Chip: was there a number estimated for stand alone police facility?
Lloyd: I don’t remember
0:46:00 Chip: There should be no other warrant articles other than the library.
0:49:10 REVIEW AND APPROVAL OF MINUTES
SIGNATURE FILE
0:52:13 Phyllis Tesslier appointment as alternate library trustees
0:53:00 Appointments to PLANNING BOARD: Russell Stensma & Kate Nesbit: 1 year term; Susan Wingate: 3-year term; James Libby: alternate for 3-year term
1:00:00 Bridges / HEB
1:!2:10 Tax Collector: abatement for Camp Belknap
1:13:20 2020 Census
1:14:27 CONTINUED BUSINESS
SELECTMEN’S UPDATE
1:19:39 CORRESPONDENCE
1:29:10 PUBLIC COMMENT

Public Hearing: Highway Funds

The Board of Selectmen will hold a Public Hearing on Monday, September 11, 2017 at 9AM to accept the allocation of Highway Block Grant Funds from the NH Department of Transportation in the amount of $70,710.48. The hearing is required by Pursuant to RSA 31:95-b, III (a). The hearing will take place at the Town Offices: 240 Middle Road, Ctr. Tuftonboro, NH.

Selectmen Lose Right to Know Suit, at Cost to Taxpayers of Almost $20,000

The selectmen have lost their lawsuit against Bob McWhirter and me. Carroll County Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius issued her decision on August 8, finding that the selectmen cannot charge us a fee to inspect governmental records, whether they be electronic or paper. This is not an earth-shattering decision. I don’t mean to disrespect Judge Ignatius’s judicial ability, but the law states, “No fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records whether they be paper, electronic, or other format.” I honestly have no idea why the selectmen thought that meant they could charge us a fee to inspect governmental records.

But they gave it the old college try, anyway, and spent almost $20,000 of taxpayer money in the process.

The board at the time was Carolyn Sundquist, Bill Marcussen, and Lloyd Wood. Carolyn Sundquist has since left the board.

The selectmen have 30 days to appeal the decision.

David Taylor of Right to Know New Hampshire, summarizes the decision here:

The Town of Tuftonboro, N.H. lost its effort to charge $0.15 per page to redact emails provided electronically. Judge Amy Ignatius in Carroll County Superior Court ruled that redacting emails electronically does not substantively change their format nor does it incur actual costs that can be charged. The town had not sought to be reimbursed for the time it takes employees to redact the emails, and they provided no evidence of other expenses.

Unlike most Right-to-Know Law cases where a citizen sues for access to records or meetings, in this case the Town of Tuftonboro took 2 of its residents to court. The town basically wanted the court to declare whether the town could charge for redacted records. Since the citizens had to respond to the preemptive lawsuit by hiring a lawyer, they sought help from supporters. The town sought for details about those supporters, but the court also denied that request. In spite of the burden imposed by the town on the citizens, the court did not award attorney’s fees or court costs because the issue of redaction costs was not settled law and therefor the town did not “know or should have known” it was improperly denying access. The town has 30 days until September 7, 2017 to appeal. The full court order is available here.