Search results for: ombudsman

HB 481 will create an Ombudsman to resolve Right to Know complaints

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.  

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.

House Committee Hearing is scheduled for 1/26 @ 1pm.
Please register your support for HB 481 before the hearing by:

  1. Registering your support via the Remote Sign In Sheet
  2. Submitting testimony via email to  HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us

Review all Right to Know bills here.

Guidelines for remote committee meetings, testifying, and registering your position on House bills

Previous blog postings related to this topic.

SB 313 to create Ombudsman to resolve Right to Know complaints

The Right to Know Law is meant to provide transparency and accountability in our government, but citizens often run into roadblocks attempting to get public bodies and agencies to live up to the letter and spirit of the law.

RTKNH receives citizen complaints from across the state as we are a resource people turn to when they feel their public officials are not lawfully responding to their right to know requests. In 2018, we received 68 inquiries.  This was a 15% increase over 2017.

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.

Senate Bill 313 was created based on the recommendations of the 13 member Legislative Right-to-Know Study Commission created by the passage of HB 178 in 2017.

After 2 months of meetings, a cross representation of stakeholders, including the NHMA, 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 and a Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission was the unanimous recommendation after considering a number of alternatives.

While there is a cost to hiring the Ombudsman there will be considerable savings to offset the costs to taxpayers. By avoiding litigation, public bodies and agencies will often be spared court costs and attorney fees. In the court case of Porter v. Town of Sandwich, the town paid more than $200,000 in attorney fees.  The town of Tuftonboro paid over $20,000 in legal fees and lost their Right-to-Know lawsuit.  Last year, several State Representatives were forced to file a lawsuit against the Coakley Landfill Group because that group failed to provide documents requested under the Right-to-Know Law.  Again, tax dollars were spent on legal fees to resolve this complaint.

While the Ombudsman will resolve the complaints, the Appeals Commission will serve a critical role which includes establishing policies and procedures for the Appeals process and educating interested parties on the Right-to-Know Law to increase awareness, compliance, and minimize future violations.  The Commission will also compile statistics and make recommendations to the legislature concerning proposed changes to the law.

Please contact your legislators and ask them to support SB 313 which creates a low cost, speedy, credible, and impartial grievance resolution process for citizens and public bodies.

House Bill 103 to establish an Ombudsman violates Study Commission recommendations

Author: David Saad, RTKNH President

Last year, SB 555 was drafted in response to the recommendations of the 13 member Legislative Right-to-Know(RTK) Study Commission created by the passage of HB 178.  I was one of the 13 members on the Study Commission.  I was also one of the members tasked with writing the Final Report published by the Study Commission and I contributed to the drafting of SB 555.

After 2 months of meetings, the study commission unanimously agreed that citizens needed a grievance resolution process which is easier, cheaper, faster and results in less cost for all parties.  Establishing an independent Ombudsman and a Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission was the recommendation after considering a number of alternatives.

While HB 103 includes some of the original language of SB 555, the bill includes many changes which violate the recommendations of the commission.   Specifically, this bill:

  • Adds a $300 fee to file a complaint with the Ombudsman and removes the language that citizen’s initiated appeals shall have no filing fee or surcharge. The Study Commission recognized the need to ‘provide the public with an easier, less expensive… process to resolve complaints’.  The $300 fee is higher than the cost to file a petition in court so it more expensive not less expensive.  Any fees should be nominal since many times the citizen is fighting to prove a RTK violation which is a violation against all citizens and in the public interest.
  • Eliminates citizen oversight of the Ombudsman. The Study Commission agreed that the Ombudsman should be established with oversight by a citizen’s Right-to-Know Appeals commission. The Right-to-Know Appeals commission would serve a critical role which includes establishing policies and procedures for the Appeals process and educating interested parties on the Right-to-Know Law to increase awareness, compliance, and minimize future violations.  They will also compile statistics and make recommendations to the legislature concerning proposed changes to the law.
  • Attaches the ombudsman to the department of justice. The Study Commission spent a great deal of time deliberating on the need for the utmost need for impartially by the Ombudsman.  The study commission believed the Attorney General’s Office would not be a viable option since the Attorney General’s Office represents state agencies in Chapter 91-A disputes and the Attorney General’s Office itself is the recipient of many right-to-know requests which would be a conflict of interest.  For these reasons, and out of concern for citizen’s perceptions, the study commission determined the Attorney General’s Office may have difficulty performing the impartial role of grievance resolution.

RTKNH strongly supports the need for an ombudsman to handle Right-to-Know complaints, however, we oppose HB 103 because it goes against several of the recommendations of the Study Commission.

Sen. Bob Giuda’s Open Letter to House asking for support on Ombudsman Bill (SB555).

By: Bob Giuda, NH District 2 State Senator

Dear Representative,

New Hampshire ranks 49th of the 50 states in government transparency because of our existing Right-to-Know appeals process. The 13-member statutory Commission To Study Processes To Resolve Right-To-Know Complaints, after studying our process and reviewing how other states deal with their appeals, unanimously agreed that creating an Ombudsman was the most efficient way to resolve Right to Know (RTK) grievances without going to court. It would make RTK appeals faster, fairer and less costly for towns, citizens, businesses and organizations.

The Commission crafted SB555, which passed both the Senate and the House Judiciary Committee with minor amendments. The House Finance Committee, however, voted the Bill ITL.

With regard to costs, in just one RTK appeal, the town of Sandwich was ordered to pay over $200,000 in attorney fees to the citizen who appealed a RTK denial. In another case, the town of Tuftonboro paid over $20,000 in legal fees when it lost its RTK lawsuit. The town of Deerfield has spent over $50,000 in RTK lawsuits. The Oyster River School District spent $60,000 in legal fees and lost. Regardless of who prevails in court, significant legal fees are ALWAYS passed on to local taxpayers. A state outlay of $48,000 for an Ombudsman will save our towns far more than $48,000 each year in avoided litigation costs for RTK appeals.

Testimony before the Commission clearly underscored the need for a complete redesign of the appeals process. Under current law, appellants must prove why government should release information, rather than government proving why it should not. Most citizens don’t have the time or money to appeal a denial to Superior court. Testimony proved conclusively that public officials know this and use it to knowingly skirt RTK laws.  For each Right to Know petition filed in Superior court, there are many violations which are not challenged by citizens because they cannot afford to do so. This is a major structural impediment to transparency in our government.

SB 555 creates an alternative process which levels the playing field when an alleged right to know violation has occurred.  With the ombudsman, most citizen complaints can be resolved out of court by an independent arbiter. This alternate resolution process will protect our citizens’ right to know, regardless of their financial means, while still protecting the due process rights of all interested parties to pursue a remedy court.

I am asking you to carefully consider the Commission’s work on SB555 and the compelling testimony of the citizens and organizations which testified before it. Please affirm our citizens’ Right to Know and support greater transparency in government by overturning the ITL on SB555 and voting Ought to Pass as Amended.

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

Bob Giuda
State Senator
NH District 2

 

The Full House will be voting on SB 555.

Please contact your Legislator NOW and ask them to pass SB 555.

House to vote on Ombudsman Bill. SB555 will save the taxpayers money and level the playing field for complaint resolutions

The Full House will be voting on SB 555 this thursday (4/26).

Please contact your Legislator NOW and ask them to support SB 555.  For details on why you should support SB 555 click here.

SB 555 will establish an Ombudsman to resolve Right to Know grievances and reduce the burden and costs for:

  • Citizens
  • Courts
  • Public agencies & bodies

The 13 member study commission unanimously agreed that Citizens needs an Ombudsman.

The Senate agreed that Citizens needs an Ombudsman and voted to pass SB 555.
The House Judiciary Committee also agreed that citizens need an Ombudsman.

Since there was a Fiscal Note on the Bill requiring an appropriation of $48,000 for the Ombudsman, the House Finance Committee recently voted the Bill Inexpedient to Legislate.
The House Finance Committee did not consider all of the savings which would more than offset the cost for an Ombudsman.

While hiring an ombudsman is an added expense, there will be considerable savings to offset the costs to the taxpayers.  By avoiding litigation, municipalities and state agencies will often be spared significant legal fees.  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.  Recently, the town of Tuftonboro paid over $20,000 in legal fees and lost their Right-to-Know lawsuit.  Regardless of who wins the lawsuit, there are always significant legal fees which are passed on to the taxpayers.

Either way, taxpayers are going to pay for resolving Right to Know grievances.  $48,000 for an Ombudsman now will yield more than $48,000 in avoided litigation costs later.

In New Hampshire, the deck is stacked against the citizen.  While on paper it appears that the Right to Law provides for open and transparent government.  Enforcement of this law falls squarely on the back of the individual citizen who is engaged, cares, and has the financial and emotional capital to take their government to court to enforce their right to know.  Most citizens simply do not have the time or money to fight for themselves and their fellow citizens.  Public officials know this and use this barrier to their advantage as they violate the rights of all citizens.  For each Right to Know petition filed in court there are many more violations which are not pursued by citizens because they cannot afford to do so.  And when a citizen does go to court, public officials use the deep pockets of taxpayer funding to fight against the very taxpayers who are paying the legal fees.

SB 555 creates a level playing field when an alleged right to know violation has occurred.  With the ombudman, citizen complaints will be resolved out of court by an independent arbiter.  This alternate resolution process will allow for ALL citizens, regardless of their financial means, to enforce their right to know.

Please contact your Legislator NOW and ask them to pass SB 555.

Senate to Vote on Bill to Create Ombudsman Tomorrow

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The Full Senate will be voting on SB 555 tomorrow.  More Details here.

Please contact your Legislator NOW and ask them to support SB 555.

SB 555 will establish an Ombudsman to resolve Right to Know grievances and reduce the burden and costs for:

  • Citizens
  • Courts
  • Public agencies & bodies

The 13 member study commission unanimously agreed that New Hampshire needs an Ombudsman.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously agreed that New Hampshire needs an Ombudsman and voted to pass SB 555. The vote was 5-0.

Since there was a Fiscal Note on the Bill requiring an appropriation of $48,000 for the Ombudsman, the Senate Finance Committee yesterday voted the Bill Inexpedient to Legislate.  The vote was split 3-3.

While hiring an ombudsman and establishing a new office is an added expense, there will be considerable savings to offset the costs to the taxpayers.  By avoiding litigation, municipalities and state agencies will often be spared court costs and attorney fees.  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.  Recently, the town of Tuftonboro paid over $20,000 in legal fees and lost their Right-to-Know lawsuit.

Either way, taxpayers are going to pay for resolving Right to Know violations.  I think $48,000 for an Ombudsman now will yield more than $48,000 in avoided litigation costs later.

Please contact your Legislator NOW and ask them to support SB 555.

David Saad is the President of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Rumney.  He can be emailed at righttoknownh@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

N.H. Senate Hearing on SB555 on RTK Ombudsman on January 23 at 10:15

Senate Bill 555 to establish an ombudsman under the Right-to-Know Law has been introduced in the N.H. Senate and assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Bob Giuda (R), Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D), Rep. Jordan Ulery (r), Sen. Sharon Carson (R), Sen. William Gannon (R), Sen. Daniel Innis (R), Sen. Harold French (R), Rep. Gary Hopper (R), and Rep. Charlotte DiLorenzo (D). RTKNH supports this bill that was the result of last year’s RTK study commission.

SB555 is scheduled for a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 10:15 a.m. in room 100 of the State House in Concord, N.H. The public is encouraged to attend and testify in favor of this bill.

This bill adds 3 new provisions to RSA 91-A:7 and then adds several new sections starting with RSA 91-A:7-a. The bill modifies RSA 91-A:7 to read as follows:

I. Any person aggrieved by a violation of this chapter may petition the superior court for injunctive relief. In order to satisfy the purposes of this chapter, the courts shall give proceedings under this chapter high priority on the court calendar. Such a petitioner may appear with or without counsel. The petition shall be deemed sufficient if it states facts constituting a violation of this chapter, and may be filed by the petitioner or his or her counsel with the clerk of court or any justice thereof. Thereupon the clerk of court or any justice shall order service by copy of the petition on the person or persons charged. When any justice shall find that time probably is of the essence, he or she may order notice by any reasonable means, and he or she shall have authority to issue an order ex parte when he or she shall reasonably deem such an order necessary to insure compliance with the provisions of this chapter.

II. In lieu of the procedure under paragraph I, an aggrieved person may file a complaint with the ombudsman under RSA 91-A:7-b and in accordance with RSA 91-A:7-c.

III. A person’s decision to petition the superior court forecloses the ability to file a complaint with the ombudsman pursuant to RSA 91-A:7-c.

IV. A person’s decision to file a complaint with the ombudsman forecloses the ability to petition the superior court until the ombudsman issues a final ruling or the deadline for such a ruling has passed.

The bill then adds these new sections after RSA 91-A:7:

91-A:7-a Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission Established. There is established a commission to manage and oversee an alternative right-to-know complaint resolution process.

I. The members of the commission shall be as follows:

(a) One member of the senate, appointed by the president of the senate.

(b) Two members of the house of representatives, appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives.

(c) The attorney general, or designee.

(d) A member, appointed by the chief justice of the supreme court.

(e) The secretary of state, or designee.

(f) A representative of Right to Know NH, appointed by that organization.

(g) Ten citizen members, one from each county, no more than 4 of whom shall be current, local, county, state or federal employees or currently serving in any elected or appointed capacity with any political subdivision, public agency or public institution; and 10 alternate members, one from each county, no more than 4 of whom shall be current local, county, state, or federal employees or currently serving in any elected or appointed capacity with any political subdivision public agency or public institution; all appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the council.

II. The members of the commission shall serve without compensation, but shall be reimbursed for necessary travel and other necessary expenses. Legislative members shall receive mileage at the legislative rate when attending to the duties of the commission.

III. Legislative members of the commission shall serve a term coterminous with their term in office. The members appointed under subparagraph I(g) shall serve for a term of 3 years, except that the initial appointment of such members shall be for staggered terms of one, 2, and 3 years. No member shall serve more than 3 consecutive terms. No member under subparagraph I(g) shall be a current lobbyist or an attorney for any entity subject to this chapter, or an attorney for any organization representing the interests of such entity. Nor shall any such member be employed by any such lobbyist or attorney. The member appointed under subparagraph I(d) shall recuse himself or herself from any court proceedings involving appeals under this chapter. The members appointed under subparagraphs I (c)-(f) shall be advisory only members who shall advise the voting members on questions of law and existing policy governing RSA 91-A.

IV. The commission shall:

(a) Establish rules of procedure to accomplish the mission of the commission to make resolution of complaints under this chapter fast, easy, and inexpensive.

(b) Recruit, screen, and select ombudsman candidates, who shall serve at the will of the commission.

(c) Appoint an ombudsman and evaluate the ombudsman’s performance on a periodic basis, at least annually.

(d) Make recommendations to the legislature concerning proposed changes to this chapter.

(e) Create, and update annually, educational materials relative to this chapter.

V. The members of the commission shall elect a chairperson and a vice chairperson annually from among the voting members. The first meeting of the commission shall be called by the senate member. The first meeting of the commission shall be held within 45 days of the effective date of this section. Seven voting members of the commission shall constitute a quorum.

VI. The commission shall be administratively attached to the department of state.

VII. Beginning November 1, 2019, and each November 1 thereafter, the commission shall submit an annual report of its findings and any recommendations for proposed legislation to the president of the senate, the speaker of the house of representatives, and the governor. The report shall also include the total number of complaints received, the number of complaints received concerning public records and public meetings, the number of complaints received concerning state and county agencies, municipalities, school administrative units, and other public entities, the number of complaints in which a ruling was rendered by the ombudsman, the number of violations of each provision of this chapter found by the ombudsman, and the number of ombudsman rulings that were appealed to the superior court, including whether the appeal was from a complainant or a public agency or official, and whether the ombudsman’s ruling was sustained before the superior court.

91-A:7-b Office Established. There is hereby established the office of the right-to-know ombudsman to be administratively attached to the department of state under RSA 21-G:10. The ombudsman appointed by the commission established under RSA 91-A:7-a shall:

I. Be a member of the New Hampshire bar.

II. Have a minimum of 10 years full-time practice of law in any jurisdiction.

III. Be experienced with and knowledgeable of the provisions of this chapter, the federal Freedom of Information Act, and other states laws regarding right-to-know.

IV. Complete a minimum of 3 hours of continuing legal education courses or other training relevant to the provisions of this chapter.

91-A:7-c Complaint Process.

I. Any party aggrieved by a violation of this chapter shall have the option to either petition the superior court or file a signed, written complaint with the office of the ombudsman, established under RSA 91-A:7-b. Any signed, written complaint filed with the ombudsman shall attach, if applicable, the request served on the public agency or official and the written response of the public agency or official.

II. Once a complaint has been filed and provided by the ombudsman to the public body or public agency, the public body or public agency shall have 10 days to submit an acknowledgment of the complaint and an answer to the complaint, which shall include applicable law and a justification for any refusal to or delay in producing the requested information.

III. In reviewing complaints filed with the ombudsman, the ombudsman shall be authorized to:

(a) Compel timely delivery of records, regardless of medium, for confidential in-camera review.

(b) Compel interviews with the parties.

(c) Order attendance at hearings.

(d) Issue findings in writing to all parties.

(e) Order a public body or public agency to disclose requested records, provide access to meetings, or otherwise comply with the provisions of this chapter, subject to appeal.

(f) Make any finding and order any other remedy to the same extent as provided by the court under RSA 91-A:8.

IV. The ombudsman may draw negative inferences from a party’s failure to participate and comply with orders during the review process.

V. In implementing the provisions of this section, the ombudsman shall follow the procedures established by the commission.

VI. The ombudsman shall determine whether there have been any violations of this chapter and issue a ruling within 30 days following receipt of the parties’ submissions and, if applicable, the records following an in-camera review. This 30-day deadline may be extended to a reasonable time frame by the ombudsman for good cause. The ombudsman may also expedite resolution of the complaint upon a showing of good cause. Rulings on expedited complaints shall be issued within 10 business days, or sooner where necessary.

VII. The ombudsman shall access governmental records in camera that a public body or public agency believes are exempt in order to make a ruling concerning whether the public body or public agency shall release the records or portions thereof to the public. The ombudsman shall maintain the confidentiality of records provided to the ombudsman by a public body or public agency under this section and shall return the records to the public body or public agency when the ombudsman’s review is complete.

VIII. Nothing in this section shall affect the ability of a person to seek relief in superior court under RSA 91-A:7, I in lieu of this process.

91-A:7-d Appeal and Enforcement.

I. Any party may appeal the ombudsman’s final ruling to the superior court by filing a notice of appeal in superior court no more than 30 days after the ombudsman’s ruling is issued. The ombudsman’s ruling shall be attached to the document initiating the appeal, admitted as a full exhibit by the superior court, considered by the judge during deliberations, and specifically addressed in the court’s written order. Citizen-initiated appeals shall have no filing fee or surcharge. The public body or public agency shall pay the sheriff’s service costs if the public body or public agency, or its attorney, declines to accept service. Nothing in this section shall prevent a superior court from staying an ombudsman’s decision pending appeal to the superior court.

II. A superior court appeal of the ombudsman’s ruling shall review the ruling de novo.

III. If the ombudsman’s final ruling is not appealed, the ombudsman shall, after the deadline has passed, follow up with all parties, as required, to verify compliance with rulings issued.

IV. The ombudsman’s final rulings which are not appealed may be registered in the superior court as judgments and enforceable through contempt of court. If such action is necessary to enforce compliance, all costs and fees, including reasonable attorney fees, shall be paid by the noncompliant public body or public agency.

91-A:7-e Rulemaking. The commission, in consultation with the secretary of state, shall adopt rules pursuant to RSA 541-A relative to:

I. Establishing procedures to streamline the process of resolving complaints under this chapter.

II. Further qualifications and review of the ombudsman, established in RSA 91-A:7-b.

III. Content of educational materials under RSA 91-A:7-a.

IV. Other matters necessary to the proper administration of RSA 91-A:7-a through RSA 91-A:7-d.

The bill appropriates $48,000 for the new ombudsman.

The full text of the bill is available here.

Senate Bill to establish an Ombudsman to resolve complaints

NEW HAMPSHIRE’S right-to-know law is meant to ensure transparency and accountability in our government, but citizens often run into roadblocks attempting to get state and local agencies to live up to the letter and intent of the law.

Currently, the right-to-know law (RSA 91-A) requires citizens to file a petition in Superior Court to resolve any right-to-know grievance they may have with a public body or agency. This requirement establishes a high burden and cost on all parties.

The Center for Public Integrity, evaluated the freedom of information laws of all 50 states as part of its 2015 State Integrity Investigation. In the Category of Public Access to Information, New Hampshire earned a grade of F, ranking 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. This low score was because all appeals of Chapter 91-A requests must go through the court system and because the law sets a high bar for the recovery of attorney fees and other costs.

Last year in House Bill 178, the Legisalture established a 13-member commission to study processes to resolve right to know complaints with the goal of reducing costs for citizens, court system, and public bodies and agencies.

The commission discussed alternative mechanisms to resolve right-to-know grievances and agreed that an “express lane” process to resolve right-to-know grievances which is easier, cheaper, and faster is needed.

After a review of the complaint resolution options used by all 50 states, the Commission recommended an Ombudsman with oversight by a Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission which would balance the needs for an easier, cheaper, and faster grievance resolution process while maintaining independence, credibility, impartiality and minimizing any political influence.

In lieu of filing a petition in the Superior Court under RSA 91-A, the citizen will be able to file a complaint with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will process the complaint, acquire and review documents and conducts interviews if necessary. He will determine whether there has been a violation of RSA 91-A and issue a ruling within 30 days. The ruling can include ordering any remedy for a violation which is specified in RSA 91-A. The Commission anticipates it is likely this alternative process will result in savings to citizens, public bodies and agencies, and the court system.

Along with the Ombudsman, a Citizens’ Right to Know Appeals Commission will be established. It will hire an attorney to be the Ombudsman, evaluate the Ombudsman’s performance periodically, and create educational materials on Chapter 91-A.

The commission reviewed right-to-know education available within all 50 states and determined that education is essential to reduce the risks, costs, and time associated with resolving right-to-know grievances. Education will increase compliance with the law, thus reducing the number of right-to-know violations which will, in the long run, reduce the costs of addressing and resolving violations. The Commission recommended Right-to-know training be established for all public officials and employees who are subject to the right-to-know law to increase awareness, compliance, and minimize violations.

To maintain trust between the people and their government, the establishment of the Ombudsman and Citizens’ Right to Know Appeals Commission will be indispensable in protecting the ideal of a citizen government whereby every citizen is provided open access to government records, advance notice of meetings meant for public scrutiny, and transparency and openness of government actions.

To view the Commission’s findings click here.

Senate Bill SB 555 has been introduced by Senator Bob Giuda to implement the Ombudsman and Citizens’ Right to Know Appeals Commission.  A hearing on SB 555 is scheduled for Tuesday January 23 at 10:15 in Room SH 100.  Please contact your legislators and ask them to support this bill and make the process of resolving right to know grievances easier for all citizens.

N.H. Commission Recommends Ombudsman

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Above: N.H. RTK Study Commission members at final meeting.  Seated, left to right, Rep. Jordan Ulery, Sen. Bob Giuda, Harriet Cady.  Standing, Lisa English, Mark Derby, Rep. Charlotte DiLorenzo, Rep. Gary Hopper, Mark Hounsell, David Saad, Christine Hilliard for Gilles Bissonnette.

A New Hampshire commission report recommends a new ombudsman to more easily and cheaply resolve complaints under the Right-to-Know Law, RSA 91-A. The Commission to Study Processes to Resolve Right-to-Know Complaints was required to file its report by November 1, 2017. The Commission was formed under RSA 91-A:8-a by passage of HB 178.

The ombudsman will be a professional attorney. He or she will review and investigate complaints filed by citizens alleging violations of the Right-to-Know Law. The ombudsman will have the power to review confidential records in camera and issue an order detailing his or her results, including applying RSA 91-A remedies such as disclosing records or levying fines.

The ombudsman will be hired by a new Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission. This new Commission will oversee and supervise the ombudsman as well as report annually on Right-to-Know complaints and recommendations for changes to RSA 91-A.

The RTK Study Commission was lead by co-chairs Sen. Bob Giuda and Rep. Jordan Ulery.  Sen. Giuda presided over most meetings and drove the committee to complete its report by the deadline. Sen. Giuda also pledged to file a bill in the Senate to implement the recommendations in the report. The report also recommends improved training on the Right-to-Know Law and lower fees.

The complete report is available here.

Hudson citizens using Right-to-Know Law in fight against town officials stonewalling access to records

What would you do if a huge warehouse and distribution center was being developed on an old golf course in your neighborhood?  You’d get involved, of course!  You’d go to meetings and ask for public records about the project.  What would you do if your town stonewalled giving you key public records?  You’d have to take your town to court.

This is where several citizens of Hudson who informally call themselves SaveHudsonNH are now.  And with the money behind such a big project, this Right-to-Know case is far from typical.  Their case started pro se, without a lawyer, but quickly got too complicated.

Some aspects of the Hudson case are typical.  They asked for email records and is often the case Hudson did not provide the attachments.  Of course, for a big building project, the key details are in those attached studies and plans.  So, not getting the email attachments means they don’t have the details they need to hold Hudson and the developer accountable and make sure the interests of the citizens of Hudson are kept in mind.  And, they didn’t get emails from lots of personal email accounts used by many Hudson officials evaluating the project.

A typical Right-to-Know case is pro se and doesn’t involve any discovery.  There are no depositions or subpoenas for records.  Discovery can be imposing and expensive, which is why Hudson and the developer are needlessly pressuring the citizens of Hudson with discovery against them.

Further, there are a flurry of complicated motions back and forth, making the case more complicated and again more expensive.  Right now, there is a hearing scheduled for November 1, 2021 for 6 different pending motions: Motion to Compel, Motion to Amend Complaint, Motion to Dismiss, Motion for Evidentiary Hearing, Motion for Rule 29 Protective order, and Motion for Summary Judgment.

While this case in Hudson is more complicated than the typical Right-To-Know case, it highlights that going to court to get access to public records is always a burden.  This is just another example of why Right to Know NH is supporting House Bill 481 to add a Right-to-Know Ombudsman to keep these cases out of the courts and provide greater access for all citizens at less cost to everyone.