Videos of Sunshine Week Events Available

Video of “The Story of the Keene State Five: A Fight for Public Access” is now available.

The City of Keene denied the Right-to-Know requests of five Keene State College journalism students made as part of a an annual classroom assignment. The students decided to fight back.
Their teacher, Dr.Marianne Salcetti, who represented them, and David K. Taylor, Vice President of Right to Know NH, who helped them, tell the story. The case took the team from the classroom, through the Cheshire County Superior Court, and to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Learn how they did it, and how you can use the Right to Know law in your own community. Moderated by Attorney Gregory V. Sullivan, the pro bono legal representative in the 2020 NH Supreme Court case.

Presented by The Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and Right to Know NH.
Dr. Marianne Salcetti was honored with the 2020 Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications First Amendment Award for her leadership in this case.

Video of “Keeping the Light On: Holding Government Accountable” is now available.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for the “right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”   But what does that mean and how does it work?   The New England First Amendment Coalition and the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications are celebrating Sunshine Week with an online expert panel discussion called Keeping the Light On: Holding Government Accountable. The webinar will examine the values of open and responsive government and how all citizens play a role. 

Speakers Include:
GILLES BISSONNETTE Legal Director for the ACLU of New Hampshire  
THE HON. N. WILLIAM DELKER New Hampshire Superior Court Justice  
CASEY MCDERMOTT (moderator) Reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio  
EMILY GRAY RICE City Solicitor for the City of Manchester, New Hampshire  
GREGORY V. SULLIVAN First Amendment Attorney at Malloy & Sullivan

Open Government Much Better Government

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THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK (March 14 – 20), HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.  

By Jim Zachary, CNHI

Open government is good government or, at the very least, it is better government.

In order for government to be of, by and for the people, it must always be out in front of the people.

Government at all levels — local, state and federal — belongs to the governed not to the governing.

As often said, we are the government and the government is us.

All the business transacted by government and all the money collected and spent by government belongs to the public.

However, public oversight is only possible when government is open, transparent and accessible.

Nefarious deeds happen in the dark, behind closed doors.

Every state has laws requiring local jurisdictions — city councils, county commissions, boards of education, governing authorities, commissions and boards — to disclose public records and conduct public meetings out in the open.

Unfortunately, many states exempt state government itself from those same requirements.

It is unfortunate that laws are even needed to require government at any level to be transparent. 

Simply put, those with nothing to hide don’t hide.

There is nothing partisan or political about government transparency, or at least there shouldn’t be.

When the public attends government meetings or files open records requests, it is simply democracy in action. Full access to our government is part and parcel of our liberty.

Your local newspaper helps keep an eye on government by attending meetings and filing freedom of information requests but open government laws are not media laws. All of us should have unfettered access to what government is doing.

The right to know is a public right.

When records custodians at city hall or the county courthouse, with the public school system or at the state capitol comply with our public records requests, they are simply giving us what already belongs to us. Complying with records requests should be viewed as routine transactions between local government and the public. 

Attending the meetings of local government, sitting in on deliberations, understanding not only what decisions are reached but how those decisions are reached should be a very ordinary interaction between local government and the general public. 

Not only is open government good government, it is the government we have. 

Jim Zachary is Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. (CNHI) director of newsroom training and development, editor of The Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

House Bill 108 Requires a List of Sealed Minutes Be Kept

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THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK (March 14 – 20), HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.  

By David Saad

The following testimony was provided to the House Judiciary Committee on House Bill 108 which, if passed, would require a list of sealed minutes be maintained and available to the public:

In the existing law regarding the sealing of minutes, RSA 91-A:3 III states

“…Information may be withheld until, in the opinion of a majority of members, the aforesaid circumstances no longer apply”.

Thus, to follow the letter and spirit of the current law, current members of each public body should be periodically reviewing all previously sealed minutes, to determine if the original circumstances for sealing the minutes still apply.  In practice, this periodic review is never done.  Thus, most public bodies are in violation of the law.  Since no list of previously sealed minutes exist, if a member of the public or a member of a public body made a right to know request for sealed minutes on a particular subject, the public body would be obligated to make a reasonable search to comply with the request.  This would require a detailed review of all minutes for an extended period of time to identify which minutes were sealed.

The benefits of having a list of sealed minutes are:

  • Reduces the administrative burden on public bodies to follow the existing law, which is to periodically review all previously sealed minutes to determine if the original circumstances for sealing the minutes still apply.  It is much easier to maintain a list on an ongoing basis than to go back and compile the list at a later date in order to comply with the law.
  • Reduces the administrative burden on public bodies to respond to Right to Requests made for minutes related to topics which were discussed during nonpublic sessions and previously sealed.
  • Ensures a more open government by having a list which tracks, for everyone to see, when discussions took place in which the minutes of those discussions remain hidden from public disclosure.

This bill, which was drafted by Right to Know NH, was passed by the Judiciary Committee with the vote 21-0.

David Saad is President of Right to Know NH (RTKNH) and can be emailed at righttoknownh@gmail.com

It’s Time for the Sun to Shine on Collective Bargaining Negotiations

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THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK (March 14 – 20), HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.  

By Donna Green

The following testimony was provided to the House Judiciary Committee on House Bill 206 which, if passed, would require collective bargaining negotiations to be public:

I am President of the School District Governance Association of NH.  We are a private organization whose mission is to give voters a voice by empowering elected school district officials to reclaim control over budgets and curriculum. In addition to offering seminars/webinars to educate and inform school board and budget committee members, we have a legislative agenda of increasing transparency in the budgeting and collective bargaining process in school districts. This is the second time we have attempted this bill.  It passed the Senate in 2018 (SB420) and we are grateful to Representative Turcotte and the other sponsors for working to advance it again.

This change to the Right to Know law is not a radical proposal, nor is it “anti-union.”  As of 2018, 15 states do not have any exemptions from their open meetings laws for public employee collective bargaining. In other words, in 15 states, government employees and public bodies must negotiate in public.  One additional state ( Alaska) requires school districts specifically to hold public negotiations. Three more states require contracts to be made public before ratification by a public body. Nineteen states, then, have some transparency requirement for public sector collective bargaining. Three states don’t allow government employees to collectively bargain at all, which brings the total of states like NH to 28.

I, personally, became convinced of the need for public view of negotiations during my own experience as a school board member on our district’s negotiating team. It was evident to me that the behavior I observed from my own team would be unlikely to occur in public. Furthermore, the public, I believed, probably assumes a lot more high powered facts and arguments than ultimately ensued. Pulling back the curtain of secrecy from all this would hold our elected representatives to greater accountability and also give union members a much better understanding of how well their team is working on their behalf.  Based on my experience, I believe, both sides would be surprised.

Some people object to public negotiations by asserting that compromises can’t be forged in public.  To them I ask, what kinds of compromises are your forging that require secrecy?

In this time of great social unrest because of mistrust of public institutions, I would respectfully suggest that it is incumbent on you to require the most transparency possibly in the conduct of governmental affairs, especially where the majority of our taxpayer dollars are spent and, for sadly, diminishing results.

As the law stands now, if both sides agree on negotiating in public, they may do so.  If the taxpayer representatives request open negotiations, but the union representatives do not, an old PELRB ruling requires both parties to conduct negotiations secretly. This is why we are asking you to change the law to require both parties to do the right thing. Making negotiations public will give both represented parties more insight into how their interests are being represented and advanced, with better accountability for elected officials and union leadership.

Donna Green is the President of the School District Governance Association (SDGA) and also a member of Right to Know NH (RTKNH).  The School District Governance Association (SDGA) gives voters a voice by empowering elected school district officials to reclaim control over budgets and curriculum.

Donna Green is a member of RTKNH. She can be emailed at righttoknownh@gmail.com

Sunshine Week is March 14 – 20

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Sunshine Week (March 14-20) is a nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for you and your community.

Right to Know NH (RTKNH) is dedicated to raising awareness of your right to a government  which is open, accessible, and accountable.

“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” – James Madison

“The right of freely examining public characters & measures, & of free communication thereon, is the only effectual guardian of every other right” – James Madison

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government” – Thomas Jefferson

RTKNH meeting Saturday 3/20 @ 9 a.m

Right to Know NH will meet on Saturday, March 20, 2021 @ 9 AM by Zoom video conference. We will discuss Right to Know (RSA 91-A) bills for the current legislative session.  The public is welcome to join us. If you’d like to join us, click on “Send us a message” under CONTACT US to the right and ask for the zoom conference meeting link.

The Story of the Keene State Five: A Fight for Public Access

CELEBRATING SUNSHINE WEEK AND YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW
Award-winning First Amendment activism

ONLINE EVENT – Free to the Public – Register at loebschool.org
THURSDAY, MARCH 18, 2021
7 PM – 8:30 PM
THE STORY OF THE KEENE STATE FIVE:A FIGHT FOR PUBLIC ACCESS

The City of Keene denied the Right-to-Know requests of five Keene State College journalism students made as part of a an annual classroom assignment. The students decided to fight back.
Their teacher, Dr.Marianne Salcetti, who represented them, and David K. Taylor, Vice President of Right to Know NH, who helped them, tell the story. The case took the team from the classroom, through the Cheshire County Superior Court, and to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Learn how they did it, and how you can use the Right to Know law in your own community. Moderated by Attorney Gregory V. Sullivan, the pro bono legal representative in the 2020 NH Supreme Court case.

Presented by The Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and Right to Know NH.
Dr. Marianne Salcetti was honored with the 2020 Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications First Amendment Award for her leadership in this case.

This online event is Free and Open to the Public. Register at loebschool.org

Keeping the Light On in New Hampshire: Celebrating Sunshine Week

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefac.org
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for the “right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”   But what does that mean and how does it work?   The New England First Amendment Coalition and the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications are celebrating Sunshine Week with an online expert panel discussion called Keeping the Light On: Holding Government Accountable. The webinar will examine the values of open and responsive government and how all citizens play a role.   The discussion will be held online from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on March 15. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.

Keeping the Light On: Holding Government Accountable   March 15 | 6:30 p.m.  
Register Here  or Email loebschool@loebschool.org  
Speakers Include:
GILLES BISSONNETTE Legal Director for the ACLU of New Hampshire  
THE HON. N. WILLIAM DELKER New Hampshire Superior Court Justice  
CASEY MCDERMOTT (moderator) Reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio  
EMILY GRAY RICE City Solicitor for the City of Manchester, New Hampshire  
GREGORY V. SULLIVAN First Amendment Attorney at Malloy & Sullivan

RTKNH meeting Saturday 2/20 @ 9 a.m

Right to Know NH will meet on Saturday, February 20, 2021 @ 9 AM by Zoom video conference. We will discuss Right to Know (RSA 91-A) bills for the current legislative session.  The public is welcome to join us. If you’d like to join us, click on “Send us a message” under CONTACT US to the right and ask for the zoom conference meeting link.

HB 471 would make police disciplinary hearings public

RTKNH supports House Bill 471.

Police officers should not have a privacy interest with respect to their official conduct. When their conduct is called into question and brought forth before the Police Standards and Training Council there is a significant and compelling public interest in the conduct and activities of both the officer and the Council.  The public has a right to know the process undertaken by the Council during an officer’s disciplinary hearing.

Disclosure of police misconduct is in the public interest.  The New Hampshire Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency agrees and recommends “Make the existing Exculpatory Evidence Schedule (EES)” a public record as noted in their Final Report (Recommendation # 22). 

Police, by the nature of their duties and power, must be held to a higher standard.  That higher standard must include transparency regarding their conduct and the process performed by the Council to review and take action regarding such misconduct. The Council’s disciplinary hearings should be open to public scrutiny to allow for adequate checks and balances to ensure bad behavior or inadequate action cannot hide behind a veil of secrecy and further erode the public’s trust.