HB 1347 Testimony

David Taylor of Durham NH, a member of RTKNH, provided the testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in support of HB 1347.

 

I am David K. Taylor of Durham, New Hampshire. I served for 12 years on the Oyster River School Board and still serve on the Oyster River Long Range Planning Committee. I have been an advocate for open government for the past several years. I write in support of HB 1347.

If a citizen is not able to attend a public meeting, all they have to know what happened under the law are the minutes. The most important part of minutes is the record of actions taken by the public body. Other than vague language about recording the actions, RSA 91-A does not specify what the minutes must record about actions. As a result minutes vary widely across the state.

One key requirement is that the motion be complete, so the record is complete. Some motions leave key details out. For example, here are the minutes of a motion about an agreement to terminate the superintendent of Oyster River that left out the key detail of how much money it authorized:

“Motion made by Krista Butts, seconded by Jim Kach to expend funds from the unspent
surplus fund balance for the purpose of implementing the mutual separation agreement
between Supt. Colter and School Board including legal fees and other costs associated with implementation. Motion passed by a vote of 6-1.”

The money paid to the superintendent alone was $133,400. The large size of this payment was the reason it was excluded from the minutes. Under public pressure, the minutes were revised about a week later.

Since public bodies make decisions for their agencies to implement, this fact can be used as a yardstick to determine if the minutes adequately record the motion: the motion must have all pertinent details needed to implement the action. HB 1347 adds this yardstick.

How can a citizen hold a member of a public body accountable for their position if there is no record of that position? During deliberations, the members present their positions and reasons for their votes. The minutes should record at least the gist of these arguments. Further, the key supporters of an action, those who make motions and second them, should be recorded. HB 1347 would require all minutes to record these basic additional details on the actions of public bodies.

Please make sure all minutes of public bodies provide a basic record of their actions and report that HB 1347 ought to pass.

 

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