Selectmen to Set Tax Rate for 2018 Update: CANCELLED

Update: The meeting has been cancelled. No indication yet when the tax rate will be set. Original post below:

The board of selectmen (Lloyd Wood, Bill Marcussen, and Chip Albee) are meeting tomorrow at 8:30AM, Thursday, October 26, at the town offices. Their regular meetings are Mondays. Tomorrow’s meeting is classified as a work session, which means they will not allow public comment.

How the Selectmen Waste Your Money

The selectmen are redacting public information from government records that they have provided to me as the result of a Right to Know request I made for emails between town employees and the town’s IT vendor, Tom Albert of Computer Port, Inc, in North Conway.

In the attached email, the selectmen have redacted the name server for tuftonboro.org.

If you don’t know what a name server is, don’t worry about it. The short version is that when you type “tuftonboro.org” into the address bar of your browser and hit enter, the browser uses the name server to determine the IP address of the web site. If you don’t know what an IP address is, you can think of it as the website’s phone number. In this analogy, “tuftonboro.org” is your friend’s name, the name server is the phone book, and the IP address is the phone number.

The point is, the name server is public — it’s not confidential. There are many tools for looking up a website’s name servers, but to provide just one example you can look up the name servers for Tuftonboro.org right here. (Having two name servers is normal.) The name servers for tuftonboro.org are:

NS1.OXFORDNETWORKS.NET
NS2.OXFORDNETWORKS.NET

Again, this is not secret information. The name servers for this site, tuftonboro.net, are:
ROB.NS.CLOUDFLARE.COM
ROSA.NS.CLOUDFLARE.COM

So why are the selectmen wasting your tax money redacting publicly available information?

The selectmen have spent about $20,000 over the past year attempting to make it harder for the public to know what they’re doing. They filed a lawsuit against Bob McWhirter and me, which they lost, because they wanted to charge us 25 cents per page to inspect government records, even though the law states clearly that “no fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.”

Having spent so much of your tax money on their lawsuit, they don’t want to admit that they were wrong, I believe. Thus, they do absurd things like redact Bob McWhirter’s telephone number and mailing address from emails that they provided to Bob McWhirter himself.

The selectmen paid their attorney, Richard Sager, $175 an hour to keep Bob’s email address, telephone number, and mailing address from Bob. One wonders, what they thought would be the consequences of informing Bob what his own phone number is. Perhaps they thought he would do something foolish, like give it out. They surely didn’t want to be responsible for that. People he had given his number to as a result of the town’s actions might then call him!

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.