At their October 16, 2017, meeting the board of selectmen (Lloyd Wood, Bill Marcussen, and Chip Albee) discussed adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to Right to Know requests. The Granite State News reported:
[Selectman Chip Albee] suggested that members of the public seeking information that is not readily available fill out a form stating their specific request, which will then be considered by the board.
According to the draft minutes of the meeting:
The Selectmen discussed handling of Right to Know requests. If information or a document is not readily available, a proper Right to Know request is to be submitted to the Selectmen for their review before information is provided.
I sent the minutes to David Saad, the president of Right to Know NH* and a member of the recently convened Legislative Commission to Study Processes to Resolve Right-to-Know Complaints, to get his perspective. David wrote back, saying: “Nothing in the Right to Know law requires that you fill out a form, nor does it require the requesting parties to identify themselves. The selectmen should not take any action that would defeat or delay disclosure required by the Right to Know Law.”
According to RSA 91-A:4 IV, a “proper Right to Know request” is merely a “reasonably described” request:
Each public body or agency shall, upon request for any governmental record reasonably described, make available for inspection and copying any such governmental record within its files when such records are immediately available for such release. If a public body or agency is unable to make a governmental record available for immediate inspection and copying, it shall, within 5 business days of request, make such record available, deny the request in writing with reasons, or furnish written acknowledgment of the receipt of the request and a statement of the time reasonably necessary to determine whether the request shall be granted or denied. [Emphasis added.]
The selectmen have no statutory authority to determine what a “proper” Right to Know request is or is not.
Unfortunately, the Tuftonboro selectmen’s secretary, Karen Koch, has also taken it upon herself to improperly interpret the law.
In June of 2016, Karen Koch wrote an email to Bob McWhirter, responding to a question he’d asked. Karen wrote:
I will be glad to respond to legitimate Right to Know requests that are requested in a respectful manner. If requests are neither legitimate Right to Know requests or asked in an aggressive manner, I will refrain from responding. [Emphasis added.]
There is no “ask politely” requirement in RSA 91-A. In an ideal world, we would all be polite. However, if Karen ever did refuse to respond to a Right to Know request because, in her subjective opinion, it was “asked in an aggressive manner,” then that would be concerning — and clearly illegal.
In fact, Karen did “refrain from responding” to a Right to Know request I made on December 12, 2016, and it’s not clear why. My request was for emails concerning the cancelled auction of town-owned properties that was to have been conducted on October 15, 2016, by the selectmen’s attorney, Richard Sager. Although RSA 91-A:4-IV, as quoted above, requires a response within five business days, I never received any acknowledgement whatsoever from the selectmen or from Karen. On October 4, 2017, I renewed my request. The selectmen have not yet provided me with the emails.
*I am a member of RTKNH. I joined after the selectmen sued me last year when I made a Right to Know request.
Update: I updated the first paragraph of this post because the selectmen have not yet made any decision about requiring the use of a form for Right to Know requests, but instead discussed it.Published in