David Saad of Rumney NH, a member of RTKNH, provided the following testimony to the Senate Executive Departments and Administration in support of SB 689.
My name is David Saad. I live in Rumney NH and I am also the President of Right-to-Know New Hampshire (RTKNH).
I ask you to support this bill.
In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, evaluated the freedom of information laws of all 50 states as part of its State Integrity Investigation. In the Category of Public Access to Information, New Hampshire earned a grade of F, and ranked 49th out of 50 states. In the category titled “In practice, citizens can resolve appeals to access to information requests within a reasonable time period and cost,” New Hampshire received a score of 0.
Those findings summarized what many Right to Know advocates already knew. In NH, the burden to resolve Right to Know complaints is very high for citizens because one has to file a petition in Superior Court.
In 2017, the passage of HB 178 established a commission to study processes to resolve Right-to-Know complaints.
After 2 months of meetings, a cross representation of stakeholders unanimously agreed that citizens need a grievance resolution process which is easier, cheaper, faster and results in less cost for all parties. Establishing an independent Ombudsman was the recommendation after considering a number of alternatives.
The origins of this bill come from the recommendations of the 13 member Legislative Right-to-Know Study Commission created by HB 178. I was one of the 13 members on the Study Commission. I was also 1 of the members tasked with writing the Final Report published by the Study Commission and I contributed to the drafting of this bill.
The Study Commissions Final Report can be read at http://www.orol.org/rtk/rtknh/2017-10-31-HB178-Commission-Report.pdf
While there is a cost to hiring the Ombudsman, there are opportunities for savings which can more than offset this cost. If court can be avoided, there will be savings in court costs and public agencies will save a tremendous amount in legal fees which saves the taxpayers money. For example, in the Superior Court case of Porter v. Town of Sandwich, Porter was awarded over $200,000 in attorney fees and the town had to pay their own legal fees too. The town of Tuftonboro paid over $20,000 in legal fees and lost their Right-to-Know lawsuit.
Please support this bill which creates a low cost, speedy, credible, and impartial grievance resolution process for all parties.
Please contact the Senate Executive Departments and Administration and ask them to vote SB 689 Ought to Pass.