Big news came from the New Hampshire Supreme Court yesterday as justices released their opinion in the case of Donna Green versus S A U 5 5. That’s the Right to Know case filed by Timberlane Regional School Board Member Donna Green after being denied access to electronic copies of budget documents by Superintendent Earl Metzler who was, of course, just following policy. The justices seemed most un-amused in their unanimous ruling requiring the district to cough up the documents in the format requested.
While the justices, quizzically, referred to the relevant part of the statute as quote “ambiguous,” they nonetheless trotted out a long history of cases, including Menge v. Manchester, the first such case on providing data electronically versus on paper, which was decided in nineteen seventy three, in their ruling.
Citing the statute, the court wrote quote:
there is no evidence that it was “not reasonably practicable” to copy the requested documents “to electronic media using standard or common file formats.”
The court went on to say quote:
We observe that requiring the defendants to produce the requested documents in electronic format advances the purpose of the Right-to-Know Law, which is to improve public access to governmental records and “provide the utmost information to the public about what [the] government is up to.”…Given that the ‘overwhelming majority of information’ today “is created and stored electronically,” we agree with the plaintiff that the “[d]issemination of public, non-confidential information in commonly used [electronic] formats ensures the greatest degree of openness and the greatest amount of public access to the decisions made by the public officials.”
In response to our inquiry, Metzler noted the court referred to the statute as ambiguous to justify his prior refusal to provide documents in electronic format and said the policy had been adjusted in light of the ruling.
In a statement released to Girard at Large, Green said she was “deeply grateful” to her attorney and the court quote:
for a decision that will help citizens, elected officials, and members of the media to hold their government accountable.
She also made no bones about filing the case, saying quote:
The Timberlane Regional School Board and SAU 55 showed a colossal disrespect for taxpayer money and the principles of open government by fighting me in court on this issue. There is no reason a properly functioning public body should not provide electronic files of public information to anyone who asks. That they should attempt to stymie an elected school board representative is even more outrageous.
Asked about the revised policy, which requires those who make requests to provide an unopened thumb drive to the S A U headquarters during normal office hours, meaning they won’t send electronic documents via email, Green said quote:
Given such a kick down by the court, why would SAU 55 not just provide emails as does the Attorney General’s Office, the Board of Education, the Town of Sandown and other public bodies? You would think the Timberlane School Board and SAU 55 would be ashamed to be going out of its way to inconvenience and obstruct citizens’ right to public information.
Yes, one would so think.
Things weren’t much better for in Pembroke last night as School Board Chair Thomas Serafin refused to allow David Pearl, whose daughter attends Pembroke Academy, to publicly question or criticize the actions and statements of Superintendent Patricia Sherman over the arrest of former Dean of Students Rekha Luther, who was arrested on school grounds for possession of heroin and anabolic steroids. Pearl was told that the state’s Right to Know Law forbade discussion of matters in public that might be damaging to an individual’s reputation.
That didn’t go over well with Pearl, a former school board member in Hooksett, who fought for the right to speak and questioned whether or not the board was going to use the law to forbid any public criticism of any school official for any reason. As if arguing that prohibitions that would only apply to school officials themselves wasn’t proof enough that they were either totally clueless about how the law works or again twisting it to suit their purposes or both, Serafin went on to invite Pearl, a citizen who would not be bound by the rules of confidentiality as are members of the board, into non-public session to air his grievances. Pearl declined the invitation. We have audio of that and a whole lot more from that meeting which we will air in the third hour of the show.
News from our own backyard continues after this.
Protest P P will conduct its first protest of Planned Parenthood facilities nationwide, this Saturday, April twenty third. Future protests will be held annually on the fourth Saturday in April. The public is invited to join one of three peaceful protests scheduled from nine to eleven at Planned Parenthood’s facilities in Manchester, Derry and Claremont. Complete details are available at N H R T L dot org, which we’ve linked to from this news read at Girard at Large dot com.
Today is the last day to sign up for the National Heritage Center for Constitutional Studies’ special seminar entitled “Our Magnificent Constitution.” Attendees will learn about the roots of our Republic and its constitution. The seminar consists of six sessions on Sundays from three to six in the afternoon. The first session is this Sunday, April twenty fourth with the subsequent five held at the same time each Sunday in May. The program costs fifteen dollars and registration, which is required, can be done online at N H C C S dot org.
That’s news from our own backyard! Girard at Large hour ___ is next!