Donna Green formerly of Sandown NH, and a member of RTKNH, provided the following testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in support of HB 1689.
Dear Honorable Members of the House Judicial Committee:
Please let me share just one experience of many from my public service to illustrate the importance of passing HB 1689 concerning non-public minutes.
I was a representative from Sandown on the Timberlane Regional School Board. Just before my service began in March 2014, the school board went into a nonpublic session under 91-A:3 II (a): The dismissal, promotion, or compensation of any public employee or the disciplining of such employee, or the investigation of any charges against him or her…
The sole purpose of their nonpublic session was to discuss hiring a consultant to initiate a Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) program. She was being hired through a third party (SERESC).
The board exited the nonpublic and voted in public to “approve the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools contract.” The board did not reveal the terms of the contract or the person being contracted.
This is what the nonpublic meeting minutes say:
Motion: Mr. Bealo motioned to enter into a non-public session under RSA 91-A: 3, II[a] the dismissal, promotion, or compensation of any public employee or the disciplining of such employee, or the investigation of any charges against him or her. Mr. Ward seconded. The board was polled at 9:30 pm:
The board discussed both the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools contract presented to them for consideration and the specific individuals responsible for providing the consultation work.
Motion: Mr. Bealo motioned to exit the non-public session; seconded by Mrs. Delfino the board was polled:
The board exited the non-public session at 9:40 pm.
Included in the public minutes is this:
Motion: Mr. Blair motioned to approve the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools contract. Mrs. Sherman seconded the motion. With no further discussion the motion passed by unanimous vote of (8-0-0).
Chairman Collins applied his signature to the contract.
Immediately after this meeting I filed a Right to Know request to see the approved contract. I received it some days later. I learned that the contract was for five years at $50,000 a year and the consultant was the superintendent’s wife.
Apart from despicable nepotism, there were major violations of the law going on here – none of which can be punished with any consequence whatsoever:
- A consultant is not an “employee,” and therefore all discussion concerning consultants are required to be conducted in public unless under a “reputation” exemption, which 91-A:II(a) is not. The nonpublic session was illegal.
- The superintendent’s wife’s contract did not contain a non-appropriation clause. NH budget law states that multi-year contracts lacking a non-appropriation clause must be put before voters for their approval. This contract did not go to the voters, yet the district was bound to it for 5 years, at $50,000 a year.
Subsequent to this contract, the head of the foreign language department was demoted and disciplined for criticizing the superintendent’s wife on Facebook. This teacher successfully sued the district for First Amendment violations and was awarded a monetary settlement. Such are the fruits of nepotism.
The school board subsequently bought a $167,000 reading program from a company that also employed the superintendent’s wife as a consultant. At least some members of the school board did not know of this relationship.
Now this same superintendent is suing his own SAU for paying him only $100,000 in compensatory time for “overtime” when he claims he was entitled to time and a half.
You cannot make this up because it is impossible to fathom the depths of deceit and self-interest that can go on in public administration with or without the collusion of elected officials. As you all know, there is no enforcement of the law so electioneering, budget law violations and flagrant Right to Know violations are rampant. Citizens alone, without the help of government, must police their own public bodies and they can only do this with knowledge which you hold the key to in your support for this legislation.
We need verbatim nonpublic minutes or archived recordings. When public officials know their words and their actions will be recorded and ultimately made public, they will be on their best behavior or their constituents will have the knowledge to vote them out. I’m willing to bet this will put an end to many illegal nonpublic sessions, and I’ve seen numerous illegal sessions or sessions that quickly veer into topics that should by law be discussed publicly. The cost of a few thumb drives cannot compare to the money it will save in preventing or exposing malfeasance.
Nonpublic minutes in SAU 55, like the one discussed here, are notoriously bereft of any information. I suspect they are often like this elsewhere. If these minutes did have inconvenient information, they would simply be sealed indefinitely. This is why I would ask the committee to consider HB 1689 along with HB 1559 that attempts to limit the length of time nonpublic minutes can be sealed and to bring some transparency to the number of minutes being kept from the pubic.
Please contact the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to vote HB 1689 Ought to Pass.