Proposed SAU 55 Budget up 9%

SAU 55 has just distributed its proposed budget, less than 6 hours before board members are supposed to deliberate it.

Remember, the public has no way to modify this budget once your elected officials on the SAU board approve it.

You’ll notice this budget is absent a break down of individual salaries, and a breakout of revenue (or ‘receipts”).  “District support” is so all encompassing, it is useless.  What exactly are the districts paying to SAU 55 and for what?

When a budget cannot be changed by the public it deserves better scrutiny than this stick figure of a budget outline.

2018-19 Proposed SAU Budget 10 04 17

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National Trend to Sue Citizens Asking for Documents

Reproduced by permission of Right to Know NH

Tuftonboro’s Noxious Lawsuit, Part of National Trend

by Max Ledoux

“These lawsuits are an absurd practice and noxious to open government.” That’s how the Associated Press quotes University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters, speaking about a troubling trend in recent years of government bodies suing citizens who seek disclosure of public documents through open-records laws. You can read the whole article at AP (“Governments turn tables by suing public records requesters”).

I know all about these types of absurd lawsuits. Last year the Tuftonboro board of selectmen (at the time: Carolyn Sundquist, Lloyd Wood, and Bill Marcussen) sued me and another Tuftonboro resident, Bob McWhirter, when we requested to inspect government records. They spent around $20,000 (and counting) in a vain attempt to charge us $.25 per page to inspect the records, even though New Hampshire’s Right to Know law states that “no fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.” The selectmen’s attorney, Richard Sager of Ossipee, argued in court that the law doesn’t make sense because, if read literally, it meant that the selectmen couldn’t charge us a fee. And they wanted to charge us a fee.

They lost their lawsuit when Carroll County Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius ruled that they couldn’t charge us a fee. But as the AP quotes Mike Deshotels in its article, “You can lose even when you win.” Deshotels was sued by the Louisiana Department of Education when he requested school enrollment data. The DOE lost in court, like the Tuftonboro selectmen, but Deshotels incurred legal costs, like Bob and me, defending himself from an attack on his right to know what his government was doing.

These types of abusive lawsuits are happening all over the country, according to the AP. But in Michigan, the state House of Representatives unanimously (108–0) passed a bill this spring that would prohibit government bodies from suing citizens who are requesting documents. The bill needs to be passed by the Michigan Senate before becoming law.

Tuftonboro selectmen spent $20,000 of taxpayers’ money in an effort to make it more difficult to get access to public records. Would they have done that if it was their own $20,000? It’s easy to spend other people’s money. Even after the court’s ruling on August 8, the selectmen have yet to turn over a single email to me or Bob.

New Hampshire should make it illegal for government bodies to sue citizens who are requesting documents.


DG’s note:  Right to Know New Hampshire  is being honored as the Nackey Loeb First Amendment Award winner for 2017.   http://www.loebschool.org/first-amendment-award/event.aspx

Also see RighttoKnowNH’s blog for the original article:  RighttoKnowNH.wordpress.com

Noxious Lawsuits

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SAU 55 Wins Supreme Court RTK Case

SAU 55 has the distinction of being well known to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.  David Taylor, a Right to Know advocate, pursued a Right to Know case against SAU 55 on his own and right up to the Supreme Court over the SAU’s demand for a thumb drive in order to turn over electronic documents.  The court ruled that SAU 55 does comply with the Right to Know law in demanding a thumb drive as the sole means of transmitting electronic documents.

Your SAU went to the state’s Supreme Court simply because they did not want to forward one short email to Mr. Taylor, and instead insisted on charging him $7.49 for a thumb drive and requiring him to commute from his home in Durham to the Plaistow office to collect it.  Your money is no object at SAU 55.  For legal fees we have a bottomless ATM.  Neither is the public’s convenience at the forefront of the SAU’s administration.  (Please don’t think elected officials get treated any differently.  I have a collection of thumb drives.)

My Supreme Court case (Green v. SAU 55 et al.) was frequently cited in the justices’ decision, but it was no help to Mr. Taylor.

Your elected representatives have the opportunity to correct this repugnant state of affairs at least in Timberlane.  As chairman of Timberlane’s Policy Committee, I have introduced a policy on responding to Right to Know requests which requires the requested information to be posted on our public website, but the policy is being filibustered by the administration and no policies at all are moving out of Policy Committee.  In fact, the administration has stonewalled policy meetings throughout the summer and even one that was supposed to occur tonight by not providing a quorum of administrators. Why are administrators on school board standing committees?  Why do administrators hold the majority votes on all school board standing committees?  Why are administrators setting policy when you elect representatives for that function?  Ah, kind readers, this is Timberlane – the land where your elected officials are clutching a toy steering wheel while the superintendent pushes their baby carriage.

David Taylor, along with David Saad and Harriet Cady, are being celebrated for their work with Right to Know NH at the Nackey Loeb First Amendment Awards on October 5th.  These three individuals work tirelessly to ensure the public’s access to governmental information.  Unfortunately there is still so much work to be done to make the law work for citizens and not public bodies that wish to make public information as expensive and difficult to obtain as possible – especially when elected official are complicit in the practice.

You can read about my proposed Right to Know policy  here :  http://wp.me/p2w33j-4tL

Mr. Taylor’s Supreme Court decision:  https://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme/opinions/2017/2017057taylor.pdf

 

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Outsized SAU Salaries

Timberlane’s superintendent is the highest paid in New Hampshire, at $165,909. Gov. Sununu makes $127,443. The Chief Justice of the NH Supreme Court makes $154,000.  Send in your thoughts as who would have a higher salary in NH than our superintendent and I’ll check it out.

In the meantime, you can thank your elected officials in Timberlane and Hampstead School Districts for their generosity with your money. Unfortunately, the outsized salaries at SAU 55 don’t stop with the superintendent’s.  SAU 55 has the second highest paid Assistant Superintendent and the third highest paid Business Administrator in the state.

Not only are the salaries giant. but the raises are similarly robust:

        2016/17                                2017/18

Business administrator      $120,000 (G.S., retired)    $120,000 (G.D.)

Assistant Superintendent   $127,000                           $131,000

Business Operations Coord.  $93,000 (Dowd)            $90,000 (Geary)

Director of Human Res.            $78,000                         $86,000

Transportation Coord.               $53,000                         $56,000

I obtained all this information through a Right to Know demand.  Why?  Because SAU board members are not given this information.  By my understanding of RSA 194-C:5, the SAU board should be setting these salaries – not voting for a “merit pool” that is disbursed at the private and sole discretion of the superintendent.

You see, the SAU board has given over their control of the purse strings to our superintendent, thereby depriving you of what pitiful fiscal oversight they may have been able to afford in your representation. Some of the newer members on the Timberlane board such as Stefanie Dube, for one, would like to regain control of this but those with fiscal common sense and a feeling of responsibility to the taxpayers are vastly outvoted on the SAU board.

If you don’t voice your objection to the runaway salaries, the irresponsibility of the SAU board and the merit pool, well, unfortunately you get taxed in direct proportion to your silence. SAU55’s board will be discussing the SAU budget on Oct 4 and Oct. 18. in the SAU boardroom starting at 7 pm.  There will also be a public hearing on SAU55’s budget on Nov. 15. If you fear the board won’t listen to you, you’re right.  It will be an exercise in futility, but if you don’t do it, why should your reps be bothered? Come if only to support those few representatives who are trying to bring sense and responsibility to this out of control picture.

And in other news today, the NH Board of Education voted to concur with their Hearing Officer’s recommendation to dismiss my complaint against SAU 55 (for violation of RSA 194-C:5). They did not explain their vote but they either felt SAU 55 should have an honest chance to continue ignoring my complaint at the Oct. 4 meeting, or that the Board of Education did not have jurisdiction on the matter.  Either way, taxpayers, you’re on your own.

See the Eagle Tribune’s coverage of this here.  

Just so you know, contrary to repeated reports in the Eagle Tribune, SAU 55’s board never said they would address my complaint at the Oct. 4th meeting.  They merely promised that it would be put in the correspondence folder at the Oct 4th meeting.

 

 

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Earl Metzler Highest Paid Superintendent in NH!

The NH Department of Education has just released their annual survey of superintendent salaries.  SAU 55 has the distinction of paying our superintendent more than any other in this fine state.

Wanna know why?

The answer is simple. SAU 55 is a multi-district SAU.  (It comprises Timberlane SD and Hampstead SD).  In multi-district SAUs, the SAU’s budget CANNOT be changed by voters.

That’s right.  SAU 55’s Board gets together, hatches a budget, and presto!  You’re saddled with it.  There is no vote to approve a multi-district SAU budget.  There is no opportunity for taxpayers to change the budget in any step of the process from conception to hatching.

When a system is designed with no accountability, you will inevitably get the consequence – and that is runaway budgets with similarly runaway salaries.

The minutes for the May 2017 meeting when Superintendent Metzler’s raise  and bonus were voted on have not been posted so you can’t know that I voted against the raise and bonus.

See the DOE’s salary survey:   salaries17-18

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Green’s Administrative Action – Continued

The Department of Education’s  hearing officer, attorney Peter Foley, recommended my request for a hearing before the state Board of Education be dismissed.  Yesterday via certified mail, I received his “Proposed Order on SAU #55’s Motion to Dismiss.”  Mr. Foley is of the opinion that it should wait until the SAU 55 Board has given a “final decision” on the matters for which I requested a public hearing.

I argued that an SAU board could indefinitely prevent a complaint from proceeding to the State Board by simply refusing to have a public hearing, or issue a final decision – a state of affairs that has certainly not escaped your SAU 55 Board.

It still rests with the state Board of Education to decide whether or not they will grant me a pubic hearing.  If they agree with the hearing officer, which is most likely, then I have to wait for the SAU 55 Board to give me a public hearing – or delay a decision so long that their tactics are beyond doubt.

Readers should remember that all the SAU 55 Board needed to do was convene a meeting to hear my complaints in public – or promise to place it on the October 4th agenda. This procedural wrangling would have been avoided, and there was no need for a lawyer from the get go.  I’m not using a lawyer.  No money is on the line – except yours being used needlessly for a lawyer to fight a simple request granted by law – that of a public hearing.

Why do I want to to go to the state Board of Education soon?  Well, I’m not content to wait for the SAU board to string this out to eternity.  My first complaint to SAU 55 was on June 9. But more pressing are the budgetary issues that came to light with the latest hire at SAU 55.  These need to be resolved before the SAU’s budget is finalized in mid-October.

Here is what I’m asking for:

  • A public hearing on these issues as per ED 204
  • A commitment by the SAU 55 board to eliminate the merit pool as of the 2018-19 fiscal year.
  • A commitment by the SAU 55 board to bring all SAU salaries for the board’s deliberation and vote as required by law immediately and going forward
  • A commitment by the SAU 55 board to bring all SAU contracts, be they new or renewals, to the SAU board annually for deliberation and voted approval
  • A commitment that the SAU board chairman will no longer sign any SAU documents without the express vote of the SAU board as a whole.

Here is my formal complaint: original letter of complaint

Here is the SAU’s argument for dismissal:  2017-08-18 SAU Motion to Dismiss

My arguments against dismissal:  Objection FINAL

The Hearing Officer’s decision:Decision on Motion to Dismiss

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Right to Know NH Receives Award

This is a release from Right to Know NH. 
I'm so proud to be a member of this organization. Kudos, everyone!

RTKNH receives Loeb First Amendment Award

The Union Leader reports that Right to Know NH is this year’s recipient of the Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award.  The award will be presented on October 5, 2017 at the Palace Theater in Manchester, NH.  The event will also feature attorney Gregory V. Sullivan who will receive the Quill & Ink Award and story-teller Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show.  The event is a fundraiser for the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

Established in 2013, Right to Know NH is a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizen coalition that works to make state, county and local government in New Hampshire more open and transparent. Group president David Saad and other members testify on public-access and right-to-know proposals in the Legislature and work to educate citizens and public officials about their rights and responsibilities under the Right to Know Law.

Sullivan, of Malloy & Sullivan LPC, is being honored for his “tenacious defense” of First Amendment rights, the school said, as well as his efforts to educate the public and aspiring journalists about their rights and responsibilities under the law.

 

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