In an effort to squelch the public’s right to know, the Tuftonboro selectmen (Carolyn Sundquist, Lloyd Wood, and Bill Marcussen) have had their attorney, Rick Sager, file a legal complaint in Carroll County Superior Court against me and against Bob McWhirter, for exercising our right to inspect governmental records. Both of us were visited on Sunday morning by a Carroll County Sheriff’s deputy who served us with the court documents. We must now appear before the court on December 21, 2016.
To briefly summarize: I have made a request, through New Hampshire’s Right to Know law (RSA 91-A), to inspect emails between the town and the local newspaper, the Granite State News.
Karen Koch, the administrative secretary, has informed me that there are 18 emails, consisting of 25 pages in all, that meet my request but that these pages contain what the town deems to be sensitive or confidential information. The selectmen say that they must make redactions to these emails before I may be allowed to inspect them. Why would it be legally or ethically permissible for the selectmen to exchange sensitive information with the newspaper that they then claim they cannot share with a member of the public? (I have asked, but the selectmen have provided no answer.)
The law unequivocally states in RSA 91-A:4 III states:
Each public body or agency shall keep and maintain all governmental records in its custody at its regular office or place of business in an accessible place.
An email that cannot be inspected because it contains confidential or sensitive information cannot be said to be “accessible” to the public. By redacting portions of an email, then, the selectmen would simply be making the email accessible, as required by law.
RSA 91-A:4 IV is just as straightforward on the question of fees charged to the public:
No fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.
I have requested to inspect the records (emails). The law does not allow the selectmen to charge me for inspecting the records.
The selectmen claim that because they are going to redact parts of the emails, they can charge me $.25 per page. That is not allowed by law.
Rather than follow the law, the selectmen are spending taxpayer money to pay their attorney to retaliate against private citizens, in an effort to keep the public from exercising its right to know. Almost exactly a year ago, the Carroll County Superior Court ruled that the selectmen violated the right-to-know law. Why aren’t the selectmen working to increase transparency and accountability? Why don’t they welcome public input and oversight? Sadly, they appear to be doing their best to keep public records out of reach of the public.