Right to Know NH is proud to have among our board members two recipients of the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award given out annually since 2013 by the New England First Amendment Coalition. The award is given to an individual from one of the six New England states who has fought for information crucial to the public’s understanding of its community or what its government is doing — or not doing — on its behalf. The recipients have shown tenacity or bravery in the face of difficulty while obtaining information that the public has a right to know.
In 2015, one of our founding members, Harriet Cady, was recognized for her tireless service to the cause of open government. Here’s what the New England First Amendment Coalition wrote about Mrs. Cady:
Harriet Cady is a frequent speaker on freedom of information concerns and recently helped to create the watchdog group Right to Know New Hampshire. The group advocates for the state’s freedom of information law and Article 8 of the state constitution, which protects public access to government meetings and records.
“Every year, there are attempts made to make it harder, or too expensive, for residents to see what government is doing,” she told the Union Leader last year. “It irritates me beyond belief. It’s a fight I’m always ready for.”
Cady has been an advocate for transparency and FOI concerns for more than 40 years. Her persistence and lengthy track-record separate her from other award nominees this year, said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director.
In her acceptance speech, Mrs. Cady spoke about two New Hampshire Supreme Court cases she won that set important precedents. Michael Miller v. Fremont School Board established the principal that deliberation cannot be done via email. Harriet Cady v. Town of Deerfield established that plaintiffs do not have to prove that a public body willfully violated the Right to Know Law.
This year, another board member, Donna Green, was similarly recognized by the New England First Amendment Coalition. They published this about Mrs. Green:
Green is a member of Right to Know New Hampshire, a state-based government transparency organization, a representative of Sandown on the Timberlane Regional School Board, and president of the newly formed School District Governance Association of New Hampshire. As a school board member, Green began her public records quest two years ago by requesting school district salary information. The superintendent’s office (SAU55), however, refused to provide this information in an electronic format. The New Hampshire Right to Know Law, the SAU argued, didn’t require this information to be released electronically even if available in that form. Instead, Green was limited to inspecting the records in person or paying 50 cents a page for paper printouts, which would have cost well over $150. Green unsuccessfully challenged that interpretation of the law in a pro se lawsuit in Superior Court. With the assistance of attorney Richard Lehmann, she appealed to the state’s highest court. In a decision last April, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Green, saying that the Right to Know Law should be interpreted broadly and facilitate the efficient and cost-effective production of records. The court found that the distribution of public, non-confidential information in commonly used electronic formats ensures the greatest degree of openness and the greatest amount of public access to the decisions made by the public officials. Read more here.
View the award ceremony here (Award to Donna Green starts at 9 minutes into video)
Antonia Orfield was an optometrist, author, professor and compassionate citizen who worked to improve public schools. She pioneered unconventional vision-related remedies to learning problems and changed the lives of many children.
Right to Know New Hampshire strives to educate elected officials about the Right-to-Know law while assisting individuals in exercising their right to know about their government’s actions and to improve government transparency.
We invite other committed citizens to join us.
The New England First Amendment Coalition will honor the Sun Journal of Lewiston, Maine, and New Hampshire resident Donna Green for their right-to-know advocacy and work on behalf of the First Amendment.
The Sun Journal will be presented NEFAC’s 2017 Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award for uncovering a Maine judicial policy that sealed the records of all dismissed criminal cases. Led by editor Judy Meyer, the Sun Journal fought against the policy and formed a coalition of freedom of information advocates to help force an end to the practice. The FOI Award is presented annually to New England journalists who protect or advance the public’s right to know under federal or state law.
Green will be presented the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award for her efforts in requiring New Hampshire agencies to provide documents electronically when requested. Green took a public records battle to the state’s Supreme Court, which last year unanimously ruled in her favor. The Citizenship Award is given annually to an individual from one of the six New England states who has tenaciously fought for information crucial to the public’s understanding of its community or the actions of its government.
Both the Sun Journal and Green will be honored at NEFAC’s New England First Amendment Awards luncheon from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 24 at the Marriott Long Wharf in Boston. During the luncheon, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan will be honored with the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award.
Tickets are $100 per person and can be purchased here.
Donna Green is a board member of RTKNH and president of the
School District Governance Association NH (SDGA NH).
On November 17th the Nackey Loeb School of Communications presented First Amendment Awards to Donna Green and David Pearl. Both have been outspoken advocates for the Right-to-Know Law.
Donna Green is a member of RTKNH and the Timberlane Regional School Board. Earlier this year, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in Green’s favor after she challenged her school district for refusing to release documents in electronic format.
Here is an excerpt from Donna Green’s prepared remarks which were abbreviated during her speech:
People sometimes ask me and Arthur how we can keep up the fight. We’ve battled for financial transparency in our school district and SAU. We’ve fought doggedly, though unsuccessfully, to prevent school district spending from rising while enrollment plummets. We helped in an aborted effort to get Sandown out of our cooperative school district. Arthur drafted legislation to clarify the law concerning town withdrawals from a cooperative school district which was in good part responsible for the legislature invoking a study commission on which I now participate. It’s been an amazing journey that shows the remarkable power of individual citizens in NH, and the remarkable nature of NH government.
When we were first talking about how far we should go with our court case, Arthur said,
If not us, then who?
When an injured person comes to your door, you cannot say “Go somewhere else.” Each of us carries the burden of defending our injured liberties as best we are able.
The 14th Annual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Awards will be presented Nov. 17, 2016, at the Palace Theatre in Manchester.
This year’s Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award is a joint award, being shared by two citizen activists who spoke out for our right to know and government transparency.
The recipients are Timberlane Regional School Board member Donna Green of Sandown and the late David Pearl of Hooksett.
Donna Green, a member of Right to Know NH, is sharing the award with David Pearl, a former Hooksett school board member, volunteer extraordinaire, and Right to Know advocate whose family will be accepting the award for him posthumously. The Ink and Quill award will be recognizing the lifetime achievement of Claire Ebel who led the ACLU NH for 30 years.
It is a great opportunity to meet many people whose right to know issues often make the news as the reception is a popular gathering for journalists and other citizens who are prominent in free speech and right to know issues in New Hampshire.
The awards ceremony is being held at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, NH. on Thursday Nov. 17.
For more information about the award, the speakers and obtaining tickets, go to http://www.palacetheatre.org/event-detail/2016-11-17/nackey-s-loeb-first-amendment-awards/86112/
Right To Know NH thanks Ms. Cady for her unrelenting advocacy for citizens’ rights across New Hampshire. Serving on the original NH Right to Know Commission, Ms. Cady is also co-founder of Right To Know NH, a non-partisan citizen advocacy organization focused on strengthening the Right To Know Law (RSA 91-A). In 2015, Ms. Cady was awarded the honorable distinction of Citizen of the Year by the New England First Amendment Coalition for 4 decades of activism. Ms. Cady previously served in the N.H. House of Representatives from 2002 to 2006.
Ms. Cady subscribes to the belief that elected NH officials are public servants who are in turn, always accountable to their constituents.
Guest editorial by Donna Green.
Our state’s Right-to-Know Law became more robust on April 19. That’s when the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that public bodies must, if requested, provide documents in electronic format when they are maintained electronically.
For me, this was an enormous victory. As an elected member of the Timberlane Regional School Board, I have been trying to obtain the names, salaries and employment status of the school district’s 700 or so employees in a format suitable for detailed analysis.
My long journey to this victory began in December 2013. Then a member of the Timberlane Regional School Budget Committee, I asked for the number of staff being funded by the proposed 2014/15 budget. My request was ignored so I made my first ever Right-to-Know request.
SAU 55’s first and second response was that the information didn’t exist. My reply was one of incredulity. I threatened to go to the Attorney General’s office. Superintendent Metzler then provided the information in Jan. 2014. A few months later I was elected to the Timberlane Regional School Board.
As it happened, when Timberlane’s 2014/15 staffing report was filed with the Department of Education, there was a large disparity between the number of (full-time equivalent) staff given to me by the superintendent in January and that reported to the Department of Education. It seemed we budgeted for 35 positions that were not filled, but no explanation was ever provided for this discrepancy.
Then I learned that the Hampstead Budget Committee is given an electronic file of all positions and staffing costs in the Hampstead School District. This was a revelation because both Hampstead and Timberlane school districts are administered by SAU 55. So – the same administration using the same software gives Hampstead information that Timberlane didn’t even know existed.
Naturally, I then asked the Timberlane Regional School Board Chairman to provide the entire Timberlane School Board with the corresponding budget information that Hampstead receives concerning staffing. Timberlane’s Chairman at the time, Nancy Steenson, refused – saying it would be a waste of paper as no one on the Timberlane School Board has ever previously had use for such information. I ultimately responded with a Right-to-Know request for an electronic file.
No electronic version was forthcoming, but SAU 55 did make a paper printout available for inspection at their office by appointment and supervision by the Business Administrator. Keep in mind the documents were in the hundreds of pages. By policy, SAU 55 charges 50 cents a page for copies. I would have had to pay hundreds of dollars; furthermore, a stack of paper copies would leave me with documents that couldn’t be searched or reorganized for analysis.
With the assistance of Right to Know New Hampshire and others, I filed a pro se case in Superior Court on February 3, 2015: Donna Green v. SAU 55, the Timberlane Regional School Board, Earl F. Metzler, and Nancy Steenson. I argued that the Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A:4, V), , requires public bodies to produce electronic files when the documents requested exist electronically.
On March 9, 2015, Superior Court Judge David Anderson, although sympathetic to my case, ruled that public bodies have the choice to provide either paper or electronic format. I filed for reconsideration. It was denied.
My husband and I were aghast. If we let this ruling stand, it would be embraced by less than forthcoming public bodies beyond Timberlane. Thankfully, Richard J. Lehmann of Douglas, Leonard & Garvey took my appeal to the NH Supreme Court.
On Jan. 7, 2016, Attorney Lehmann argued that the law does not give discretion to public bodies but, in fact, requires them to provide electronic format when documents are maintained electronically. Three suspenseful months later, the Supreme Court determined that the law might be somewhat ambiguous; nevertheless, in light of the purpose of the Right-to-Know Law, which is to provide the utmost information to the public, “…the plaintiff is entitled to the requested documents in electronic format.”
Although this is a victory for the citizens of New Hampshire, it is a tremendous black eye to the Timberlane Regional School District which will go down in history as the public body that wasted many thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to thwart one of its own board members from getting budget information in a usable format.
Not to go down without a fight, though, SAU 55’s superintendent immediately issued a policy change: electronic files will be provided only on a thumb drive delivered in unopened original packaging. That’s right: an SAU which is a service organization to the citizens of our school district and its governing body, the Timberlane Regional School Board, will not email any Right-to-Know responses. Board members and citizens must go to the SAU office during their restrictive hours of 8:30 am to 4 pm, Mon. – Fri., drop off a thumb drive and then return to pick it up. Both SAU 55’s board and the Timberlane Regional School Board as a whole refused to take issue with this new policy.
As one of the Supreme Court justices asked of Timberlane’s lawyer during the hearing, “Why not just give her the information?”
No law can legislate common courtesy. I dropped off my thumb drive ($6) to SAU 55 with a fresh Right-to-Know request to follow.
I’m the public face of a public battle, but behind me are many people. My husband, Arthur, has been more than half of all this with financial, factual and emotional support. Many others have helped, too, with the pro se brief, with publicizing the issue, and general encouragement. To Richard Lehmann, our steadfast advisor, goes our deepest gratitude and respect.
For more on the background of the staffing issue click here.
Donna Green serves as a Sandown representative to the Timberlane Regional School Board and is also member of Right to Know NH.
Additional press coverage of the Supreme Court victory:
Harriet Cady who helped found Right to Know NH is Citizen of the Year. The New England First Amendment Coalition will award Harriet Cady the 2015 Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award. The award will be presented at the NEFAC annual luncheon on Friday, February 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Harriet Cady was cited for her 40 years of activism including her role in Cioffi v. Sanbornton (2001), Miller v. Dreyer (2003) and Cady v. Deerfield (2012) which she argued pro se before the N.H. Supreme Court. Cady also served in the N.H. House of Representatives and was a member of the N.H. Right to Know Commission.