THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK, HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.
Author: Ty Vitale
Right to Know, what comes next?
So you’ve made what you think is simple request to your Municipality or School Board and they have blocked you at every turn. What can you do? Short of going to court over the Right to Know violation itself – the answer is you can do nothing but complain.
However, what if you did Know? I think you do Know – the mere fact that you are being blocked tells you something in and of itself. It tells you that you are Right and therefore you no longer need the evidence you are seeking.
To put it another way, let’s say there was a murder and you are requesting the Smoking Gun from your School Board. The School Board spoke about the Smoking Gun before going into Non-Public Session for the purpose of concealing the Smoking Gun. Under these circumstances, would you take the School Board to court for the Right to Know violation of ignoring your request to see the Smoking Gun? Or would you jump to the next level and take the School Board to court for concealing a murder?
As an Auditor, you are trained that when you ask for something and you are refused or stalled, you must examine the motivation for them to stall or refuse you. In the Smoking Gun case, their motive is not clear, therefore we must assume the worst – it was the School Board with the Smoking Gun in the Gym!
Now, back to your simple request to your Municipality – you have requested a contract and you are convinced that this contract will prove Budget Fraud under RSA 32 (Under 32:12 violators can be removed from office). You know the contract exists, but the Municipality stalls for months and you never get it. Under these circumstances, would you take the Municipality to court over the Right to Know violation? Or would you take them to court for the Budget Fraud?
Since you are convinced there is Budget Fraud, my Auditor argument would be; the fact that they did not provide the contract proves there is Budget Fraud. The Municipality is then forced to defend itself against Budget Fraud by providing the document you wanted in the first place. If the contract proves there was no Budget Fraud, then what was their motive for stalling and refusing you? If it proves Budget Fraud then we have our motive – willful concealment of public records for the purposes of covering-up Budget Fraud…
This is what I think the NH Supreme Court Justice in Donna Green’s Case was getting at when she said “why not just give her the information?” You can assume that your Municipalities answer to this question would be ‘if I gave her the information, we would be here for matters more serious than Right to Know violations’.
Ty Vitale is a member of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Plaistow. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org