How TRSB Upends Open Meeting Law

Thursday’s rather tense school board meeting began a promising discussion about the current practice around our correspondence. Few of us are happy with the way correspondence is dealt with now.  Danville’s Rob Collins stated that I was the reason the school board was forced to revise its correspondence policy. The claim is false, but the chairman’s response to the correspondence issue was particularly noteworthy.

Currently, all correspondence sent to the school board’s email of TRSB@Timberlane.net goes only to the school board chairman (and Dr. Metzler).  All other board members must wait until the next meeting to read the correspondence when the folder is passed around during the meeting itself – or available shortly before the meeting for those who can arrive early. Mrs. Dube and other members find this current arrangement disrespectful to both the board and the public who made the effort to write.

The board’s excuse for this current unacceptable arrangement is that I cannot be prevented from replying “to all” when a correspondence comes to us. First let me say that it is not against the law to communicate with a quorum outside of a meeting so long as no deliberation takes place. Although there is no law to this effect, generally accepted best practice is to attach all communications to a quorum outside of a public meeting to the next set of minutes. This includes correspondence from the public.

I communicate with a quorum of my board specifically so my communications will be placed in the permanent record. Mr. Collins likes to mislead the public into believing any communication with a quorum outside of a meeting is illegal.  It is not.  He just likes to make everyone think so as yet another way of controlling information to favor insiders.

Why do I say that?  Well, Chairman Bealo’s comments on this issue gave the game away.  He said it is perfectly alright to communicate with just three members on an issue outside of a meeting but it must not be done with a quorum.

So, this is how the TRSB turns the law on its head. The Open Meeting rules in the Right to Know law are intended to make government business public. The chairman may have deliberations with select members in private but a communication with a quorum which is to be made public in minutes is to be suppressed.

My communications to my fellow board members fall under three categories:

  • request for items to be added to the agenda….. (granted only twice in two years)
  • information of interest to the entire board
  • requests for information so the board does not duplicate my efforts

My communication is intended to inform the entire board or drive a public discussion; whereas from observation of school board meetings, you can infer what sorts of conversations are going on among the inner circle of the board and it does not touch on anything as non-deliberative as agenda items or information requests.

Here is the Right to Know law relevant to this discussion.

91-A:2-a Communications Outside Meetings. –
I. Unless exempted from the definition of “meeting” under RSA 91-A:2, I, public bodies shall deliberate on matters over which they have supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power only in meetings held pursuant to and in compliance with the provisions of RSA 91-A:2, II or III.
II. Communications outside a meeting, including, but not limited to, sequential communications among members of a public body, shall not be used to circumvent the spirit and purpose of this chapter as expressed in RSA 91-A:1.

Source. 2008, 303:4, eff. July 1, 2008.

From the NH Attorney’s Generals Memorandum on the Right to Know Law 2015, page 8:

“E-mail use should be carefully limited to avoid an inadvertent meeting, albeit one
where there is a failure to have a physical quorum at a noticed meeting place.
Simultaneous e-mails sent to a quorum of a public body by a member discussing,
proposing action on, or announcing how one will vote on a matter within the
jurisdiction of the body would constitute an improper meeting. Sequential e-mail
communications among members of a public body similarly should not be used
to circumvent the public meeting requirement. For example, e-mail among a
quorum of members of a public body in a manner that does not constitute
contemporaneous discussion or deliberation and does not involve matters over
which the body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power does not
technically constitute a meeting under the Right-to-Know law. E-mail
discussions of a quorum concerning matters over which the public body has
supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power would run counter to its
spirit and purpose.”

 

Readers note that my emails do not result in an email discussion.

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1 Comment

Filed under Sandown Issues

One response to “How TRSB Upends Open Meeting Law

  1. Simon Shapiro

    Amazing how they can tie themselves in knots. Simon

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