Emails to a Quorum NOT Illegal: Are you Listening Mr. Collins and Ms. Steenson?

My one-year anniversary of being censured by the Timberlane Regional School Board is approaching.  On July 16, 2014, Danville’s ubiquitous Mr. Collins provoked a motion of censure against me in part because I insisted on emailing a quorum of the school board.  (These mostly concerned asking for issues to be added to the agenda – requests that were always denied or ignored.)

As I  was poking around the internet today after having read the Attorney General’s 2015 Memorandum on the Right to Know Law, I happened to find this from 2008:

The other question that frequently arises with respect to electronic communications is whether the Right-to-Know Law is violated when members of a public body communicate outside of public meetings. The Study Commission recognized that this is of particular concern to municipal bodies, where a quorum may be as few as two members. In attempting to balance the Right-to-Know Law’s goal of making government as transparent as possible against the reality of needing to get work done, the Study Commission felt that some communication outside of public meetings should be permitted as long as the public’s right to know is protected as much as is practicable. The Study Commission thus recommended adding a requirement that participants must be able to communicate with each other contemporaneously in order for communications to be considered a “meeting” that must be made open to the public.[4] The intent of this revision was to permit email and similar communications between a quorum of the public body outside of a public meeting, while ensuring that the spirit of the Law will not be circumvented through the use of electronic communications (such as telephone conferences or instant messaging) to discuss or deliberate over official business.[5] A new provision was also added to RSA 91-A to make clear that deliberations on matters over which a public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power must take place in a public meeting unless otherwise exempted under the Law.

The recent amendments to RSA chapter 91-A thus provide some clarification on many of the issues that have been troubling municipal bodies with respect to electronic communications. For example, emails between members of a public body would generally be considered permissible as long as they are not used to circumvent the spirit and purpose of the Right-to-Know Law. When email communications rise to the level of deliberations, however, they would not be permitted. Emails involving a quorum or majority of the public body would be considered governmental records, which should be maintained by the public body (depending on retention requirements) and made available upon request unless a statutory exemption applies. When there is doubt as to whether communications outside of public meetings are permitted, it is clear that the Right-to-Know Law should be interpreted in a manner that preserves the openness of government as much as possible. [My emphasis.] Recent Amendments Bring New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know Law Into the 21st Century

I just wanted to bring this up because Ms. Steenson once again scolded me for replying to a quorum of the board.  That conversation will follow.


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