David Taylor of Durham NH, a member of RTKNH, provided the following testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in support of HB 1325.
I am David K. Taylor of Durham, NH. I served 12 years on the Oyster River School Board and have been a member of Right to Know NH for 5 years.
This bill would require a public body to maintain a list of all sealed non-public minutes and make that list available to the public.
Once non-public minutes are sealed they a filed away where there is almost no accountability.
This bill addresses a Catch-22 with sealed non-public minutes. Consider a citizen who wants to review how a public body is sealing minutes. Since those minutes are sealed, they are not available to the public. But, the public body is not required to compile a list of sealed minutes under RSA 91-A:4, VII. So, it is very hard for a citizen to know which minutes are sealed and why. It would be a waste of everyone’s time to ask for fully redacted copies of the sealed minutes. It would also be very time consuming to get copies of regular minutes searching for those that mention sealed minutes.
Since sealed minutes deprive the public of access to meetings of public bodies, and thus should be used sparingly, a list of sealed minutes will make it easier to hold public bodies accountable.
This list will not only be available to the public, but it will also help facilitate regular review leading to minutes being unsealed more promptly. Over the 12 years I served on the Oyster River School Board, I don’t remember unsealing more than a very few non-public minutes. We did not conduct a regular review of sealed minutes. I’ll bet there were minutes sealed beyond the time warranted. But, because we didn’t even know what minutes were sealed, we didn’t know we needed to unseal them.
This bill is not retroactive. It does not impose a burden on the public body to go through its files and list the sealed minutes. But, there is nothing in this bill that keeps a public body from taking that step on their own initiative. And, frankly, I hope when the list makes it easier to review sealed minutes, it prompts at least some public bodies to take that initiative.
This simple list will help shine a light on a place that is currently very dark. Please contact the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to vote HB 1325 Ought to Pass.