THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK (March 11 – 17), HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.
By: Donna Green
David Maudsley wanted to know how much two legal cases cost the taxpayers in SAU 55. He never found out. He got some partial information after the exchange of many emails and a two-month wait. Here is his charming cry of frustration to the board of SAU 55 who will do nothing more than wink at the administrator responsible for this insult to open government.
David Maudsley wrote:
Dear School Board Member,
I do not live in the SAU 55 District, a fact for which I am now eternally grateful, but I would like to give you an account of my dealings with them in trying to extract some very simple information.
Unable to locate from the District website an email address for how to contact SAU 55, I sent an email to Ms Sherman , who I determined, at that time, to be the Chairman of the School Committee, on December 15th, 2017 asking for two items of information. They were:
- total legal costs incurred for the Right to Know case of 2016 (Green) and:
- total legal costs for the Right to Know case of 2017 (Taylor).
Ms. Sherman did not deign to reply so on December 30th I wrote a letter to SAU 55 requesting the above information and enclosed a check for $15 to cover any costs. Ms. Belcher’s initial response of January 8th is a glorious illustration typical of an obdurate regime resistant to transparency or accountability. She writes of a requirement for redaction’s and taking 30 days (or more) to complete them. As I said in my response to such nonsense, quoting Richard Feynman, “Surely, you must be joking.”
After a series of prolonged exchanges, as of February 19th , I have received none of the information requested, i.e. over 60 days following my original request.
A record of the correspondence on this matter until February 12th is here.
For believers in accountability in government the standing of New Hampshire is cause for concern. According to the Center for Public Integrity, an organization that received a Pullitzer Prize in 2014, New Hampshire ranks 49th in the Nation with respect to access to public information. It is quite evident that SAU 55 is intent on being the shining light leading the race to the bottom.
And all I asked for were two simple numbers.
In the tech world and probably in most corporations, the perpetrator of such an archaic procedure as that devised by SAU 55 to handle 91-A requests, a procedure completely at odds with current standards of efficiency and costs and demeaning both to the word and the spirit of RSA 91-A, would be summarily fired.
You probably gave him a raise.
Even the NH Legislature, never noted for its alacrity to an urgent issue unless it involves freeing up more guns or restricting voting, has been shocked into action. SB 395, subliminally labeled by the underground cognoscenti as the “Metzler” bill, in honor? of your Superintendent, is designed to directly challenge the procedure so artfully created by SAU 55. Not at all surprising is that some public officials, presumably of the same genetic makeup as those in SAU 55, are opposed. Perhaps the locals can expect an article on the next School warrant to build a tall wall around the offices of SAU 55 for the express purpose of keeping inquiring minds at bay.
Over the years I have contracted with a number of municipalities. Many years ago, one of them encountered a sudden spurt of 91-A requests. The advice from their lawyer at the time was that, unless it was specifically excluded by 91-A:5, “give ’em everything, give it to them quickly and ask if there is anything more they need. Then grin and bear it.” SAU 55, evidently, does not have the same lawyer.
Since your lawyers received over $100,000 in 2015-2016 exceeding the approved budget by nearly 50%, fighting lawsuits, for them, is much more lucrative than avoiding them. But what do your taxpayers think?
School Boards have a well earned reputation for sometimes appointing people to the positions of school principal or superintendent that is at least one rung above their level of competence. Perhaps that is why so many of them are always on the move. As the old adage goes, those who can, do research, those who cannot, teach and those who cannot do either become administrators. They just push papers, tot up numbers and talk. And yet the system perversely pays the administrators far far more than any of the finest teachers – and then claims credit for a high school product that scholastically, on average, is about two years behind their European and Asian counterparts in a world with an increasingly global component. The Ancients of Greece must be growling in their graves at the debasement of an educational ingredient they considered essential to a civilized society. Or have we now become, as Evelyn Waugh once suggested. “a syphilised society.” It is quite possible that history will eventually establish the impotence of school committees as a major factor in the rapidly increasing decline of the United States as a major contributor to the common good in the world at large.
By way of reference, I asked a different municipality for information on their legal costs for 2016 through 2017. I was offered complete information either as print outs (incidently at 10 cents/page cf yours at 50 cents/page) or as emails or both. The total time involved, including printing, was significantly less than 5 minutes – far less time, I suspect, than that required to compose Belcher’s asinine response to my request of December 30th.
And all I was asking for – were – two – very – simple – numbers.
As an elected public official whose passivity has condoned the claptrap and nonsense detailed above and here it is most unlikely that you are even minimally embarrassed by it.
But shouldn’t you be?
What are you going to do about it?
Donna Green is a member of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Sandown. She can be emailed at email@example.com