Legislators again consider weakening citizen’s Right To Know

The following was published in the Citizen and the Weirs Times (page 4)

To: Honorable Members of the House Judiciary Committee

Re: SB 243

My name is David Saad.  I live in Rumney NH and for the last 3 years I have served on the Rumney Planning Board.

I ask you to oppose SB 243 which makes changes to the right-to-know law section RSA 91A:3.

RSA 91-A Preamble states: “Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of this chapter is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people.”

Often, the most important issues to citizens and taxpayers are also the most controversial and divisive.  At times, the citizens and taxpayers may be at odds with their elected officials.  This democratic process plays itself out during open and transparent public meetings.

However, SB 243 jeopardizes this openness and accountability to the people because this bill would allow any single member of the public body to draft a letter simply stating that they have a claim or threaten litigation against a citizen/taxpayer and effectively, that single member of the public body can now require that all future discussions regarding that topic be done in a nonpublic session, even if that single member has no intention of ever filing any claim.  Thus, a single member of the public body can force discussion of any controversial topic into nonpublic session as long as they are willing to make a claim and put it in writing.

For example, if a taxpayer feel that municipal funds are being misspent and publicly criticizes a public official for misappropriation of funds, the official can now draft a letter threatening to sue the taxpayer because of their public criticism and effectively squelch any further discussion of the misappropriation of funds issue during public meetings.  Thus, a pen and piece of paper is all that is needed to subvert the public’s right to know.

SB 243 lets public officials with something to hide do just that.

Please uphold the spirit of RSA 91-A and insure the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people  by opposing this bill.

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