Question What's the deal with all of the non public sessions going on in town?

1 year 6 months ago #1 by CoffeeJoe
Thanks for putting this together, I have some things to put out there and see what people think about them.

Something that has been happening way too much is the selectman board holding non public sessions in almost every meeting. sometimes they have multiple non public sessions in the same meeting too.

What is going on? I mean there are a lot of rumors going around town, people getting harassed, money getting moved around without much discussion or disclosure, a selectman suddenly decides to quit with no real discussion about it? If you look at the meeting minutes, everything is immediately sealed after these sessions too. No justification given, they just say we aren't gonna tell you what we are about to talk about and then seal the minutes so you can't find out later.

In one of the meetings a couple weeks ago, they even said that a person who is part of a non public session isn't allowed to have a copy of the minutes. What are they so worried about that they won't put their discussions and decisions in writing and let the information leave the building?

There seems to be a lot of stuff going on that people don't know about and I for one would like to know why.

All around the state these non public meetings seem to be a growing trend, so much in fact that there have been changes to the laws in recent years and a lot of educational write ups by attorneys, the state and different public associations.

Look into it yourself, here is something I found out about the rules specific to non public sessions.

The only permissible reasons for sealing the minutes are:

  • Disclosure would adversely affect the reputation of a person other than a member of the board;
  • Disclosure would render the proposed action ineffective; or
  • The discussion in the minutes pertains to terrorism.

Are they spending these meetings talking smack about people or maybe there are a bunch of terrorists in town. if that's not the case, why would we have so many discussions that need to be secret to protect the information?

Inappropriate Discussions in Non-Public Sessions

  • Discussing issues or topics beyond the cited non-public purpose.
  • Using non-public session to interview or discuss the appointment of or a replacement for member of a public body.
  • Entering into non-public session to discuss the misconduct of a member of the public body.
  • Considering the termination/disciplining of an employee without providing the employee prior notice (if required by law, policy or contract).

Sealing Non-Public Session Minutes
  • Minutes of Non-public session may be sealed by a 2/3rds vote for three (3) limited reasons:
  • Disclosure would likely adversely affect the reputation of a person other than a member of the body itself; or
  • Disclosure would render the proposed action ineffective; or
  • The topic discussed pertained to terrorism.

AND

  • If no action is taken by the body, consideration should be given to drafting the non-public session minutes in manner so that sealing is not required.
  • Before sealing the non-public minutes they should be reviewed by the body to determine if sealing is necessary.
  • The motion to seal must be taken in public session and shall state one of the three (3) reasons for sealing the minutes.


I have yet to see anything mentioned about why these non public sessions are happening and nothing about why the minutes are being sealed. One good find was from the Government Affairs Counsel, where the document specifically says

Legally, there actually is no such thing as “sealing the minutes.”

So I guess people can request the non public session minutes through the Right to Know act. Maybe we should.

Maybe this isn't a big deal to people, but I for one would like to know a little more about what our elected officials are doing and why people keep getting bullied by Town Hall.
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1 year 6 months ago #2 by nirvana38
After reading this, I started to look into the meeting minutes and there really isnt too much to see there. This is a particularly good example, where there is a fairly full agenda but the minutes reflect nothing at all.

WILTON BOARD OF SELECTMEN
MEETING AGENDA
JANUARY 12, 2015

6:45 – Dawn Tuomala – Storm water contract
8:00 – Nonpublic per RSA 91-A:3,II(e)

Sign:

  • Accounts Payable manifests
  • Meeting minutes
  • One (1) Timber Tax Warrant
  • Payroll for period ending 1-10-14
  • One (1) Veteran’s Exemption
  • Review Informational Material
  • Review Correspondence
Discuss:


How does that meet the criteria that the state defines for non-public sessions? Maybe reviewing "informational material" and "correspondence" justifies sealing the meeting minutes.

What's odd is that this version of the meeting minutes was created and then posted to the site on April 25, 2017. Was there another version of the minutes that needed to be cleaned up? These minutes are supposed to be posted to the site within 72 hours of the Selectman's meeting, and the document they provide on the public site wasn't even created until the end of April. That's 3 months for less than a page of meeting minutes.

I attached both of the documents here, see for yourself. Something is going on and I don't like it.

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1 year 6 months ago #3 by gator
Hi, these are great questions. How does one go about requesting the minutes through the right to know act? Thanks in advance.
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1 year 6 months ago #4 by nirvana38
From what I understand, you can go in and ask for the information to be provided immediately if it is readily available. You don't even need to identify yourself and the law states you can make copies of the documents as well.

We should walk in and request all public and non public agendas and minutes for all Meetings for the last 5 years.

For clarity, I am posting an attachment from the New Hampshire State Attorney General. This document was posted by the NH Department of Justice to clarify the Right To Know Law, what is covered, how things need to be done, and so on.

Here is a quote from the section on Public Inspection of Governmental Records.

Public Inspection of Governmental Records – RSA 91-A:4, IV

Every citizen during has the right to inspect all non-exempt governmental records, including meeting minutes , during the regular or business hours of a public body or public agency, at the regular business premises of that body or agency. Citizens have the right to make memoranda, abstracts, and photographic or photostatic copies of the records or minutes, except as otherwise prohibited by statute or RSA 91-A:5. RSA 91-A:4, I.

The Right-to-Know law does not require the requesting party to identify himself or herself and imposes no restrictions on the use of information once it is disclosed. Associated Press v. N.H., 153 N.H. 120 (2005). It is permissible to ask the person making a Right-to-Know request to put the request in writing. However, if he or she declines, the individual receiving the request should create a written record for the public body or public agency’s files. The written record should include the date of the request and a description of the specific governmental records being requested. Governmental records that are immediately available must be provided for inspection. When this occurs, the written record should also document what governmental records were provided for inspection and/or which were copied.

If records are immediately physically available, the public body or public agency should:
a. Ask the person requesting access to wait while the records are made available;
b. If production is appropriate, make the records available for inspection and/or copying;
c. Provide only a copy for inspection or closely monitor the person’s handling of the original documents;
d. If production is not appropriate, explain why;
e. If the documents are copied or reproduced using the public body or public agency’s equipment is used, the person requesting the documents may be charged for copying or reproduction costs.

Within five business days, the public agency or body must either deny the request in writing, with reasons, or notify the requester, in writing, if or when the records, subject to RSA 91-A and other applicable statutes, will be available. If the public official is not sure whether or what responsive documents exist, then the requester must be told when the search, retrieval and review process is expected to be completed. RSA 91-A:4(IV).


A list of information that is exempt from disclosure is listed on page 24 of the main document.

Also, some interesting points from the Office of the Attorney Generals definitions.

Page 20 of 138

d. No vote in a public meeting may be taken by secret ballot except for:
(1) Town meetings and elections;
(2) School district meetings and school district elections; or
(3) Village district meetings and elections.


It looks like there are no restrictions on the re-distribution of this information. So once we get copies, we can post them on this website.

Hope this helps.

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1 year 6 months ago - 1 year 6 months ago #5 by nirvana38
I just found this sample form that people can use for a Right To Know or Freedom of Information Request.

New Hampshire Sample FOIA Request

[Your Name]
[Street Address]
[City, ST ZIP Code]

[Date]

[Name of Custodian of Records]
[Title]
[Company Name]
[Street Address]
[City, ST ZIP Code]


Dear [custodian of records]:

Under the New Hampshire Right to Know Law R.S.A. Ch. 91-A et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that [Describe the records or information sought with enough detail for the public agency to respond. Be as specific as your knowledge of the available records will allow. But it is more important to describe the information you are seeking.]

If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $______. However, I would also like to request a waiver of all fees in that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of ___________ [Here, you can identify yourself as a representative of the news media if applicable and state that your request is related to news gathering purposes.] This information is not being sought for commercial purposes.

The New Hampshire Right to Know Law requires a response time of five business days. If access to the records I am requesting will take longer than this amount of time, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.

If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.

Thank you for considering my request.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]
[Your Phone number]
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1 year 6 months ago #6 by shamrock
REALLY GOOD QUESTIONS!!!! B)
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