Monthly Archives: February 2017

Green Given Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award

On Friday, I had the honor of being awarded the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award by the New England First Amendment Coalition. The awards luncheon was part of the New England Newspaper Awards weekend and was held at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston. It was an especially great pleasure to meet Mrs. Orfield’s daughter, Rose, and to follow in the footsteps of my friend, Harriet Cady.

My introduction and subsequent speech begins at 7 minutes into this YouTube video:

#tyHarriet

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SB Meeting: Immature Malice on Full Display

Three board members used the Public Comment portion of the school board’s agenda last night (Feb 16, 2017) to air their grievances.  Board members cannot get items on the agenda and so must resort to Public Comment period for three minutes of free speech. The Timberlane board, you see, does not control their own agenda. As a result, their meetings are usually little more than puppet shows — of the Punch and Judy kind. Last night was different. The drama turned against Punch.

Jack Sapia, school board representative from Atkinson, is not running for re-election.  Last night was his last meeting as a board member and he decided to go out with a bang.  Mr. Sapia read a list of objectionable incidents contrived by Chairman Bealo and then called for Bealo’s resignation from the board.  Bealo pretended nothing had happened and moved on.  Fortunately social media and the press are not moving on.

One particular incident Mr. Sapia related involved me.  According to Sapia, before the October 6, 2016 school board meeting, Bealo bragged to some board members that he was going to “set me up” with an anonymous donation.

Sure enough, I objected to accepting an anonymous donation, as I always do, and Bealo shot back with some quick insults calling me the busybody Aunt Bea from the old TV series, Mayberry RFD.  Without knowing**  about the “set up,” Sapia joined in disparaging my concerns, although minus Bealo’s personal insults.

Stefanie Dube showed remarkable insight and backbone to call them both out.  She was the only person on the board to understand that malicious behavior towards one is a threat to all – eventually. Mr. Sapia now knows it as well.  Perceptively, Mrs. Dube told Bealo that he had to have known that the anonymous donation would elicit my criticism.  Bealo put on a good show of innocent indignation, showing what bold-faced lying looks like in real life.

According to Sapia, Bealo then gloated about his success and enjoyed a laugh in front of him with the same confreres after the meeting.

You can watch the immature malice in this 6 minute video from the October 2016 meeting:

Bealo donation setup

Mr. Sapia should be given credit for pulling back the curtain on the evil puppet show and I thank him for it. To hear all of Mr. Sapia’s complaints, start at 13 minutes into this video:

TRSB Meeting Feb 16, 2017

Vote wisely in March.

** A previous version of this post reported that Mr. Sapia knew about the “set up” before the meeting.  He corrects my misapprehension and affirms that he knew about the plot only afterwards when he was present with the inner circle of board members.  I apologize to Mr. Sapia for the error.

 

 

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Free Event about Right to Know

Sunshine Week features New Hampshire Right-to-Know discussion

In recognition of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote open government, the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and New England First Amendment Coalition will present a discussion concerning the key to open government in New Hampshire — the state Right to Know Law.  

The Right to Know in New Hampshire, in Theory and Practice” will be held at the Loeb School in Manchester at 7 p.m. on March 13.

The two-part program will include a presentation by David Saad, president of Right to Know New Hampshire (RightToKnowNH.wordpress.com), a citizens’ group working to improve access to government in New Hampshire, and a panel discussing the law from varying perspectives.

Panelists include:

  • Lisa M. English – Senior Assistant Attorney General
  • Donna Green – President, School District Governance Association of New Hampshire and Board Member, Right to Know New Hampshire

  • Richard Lehmann – Attorney, The Lehmann Law Office

  • Todd Selig – Town Administrator, Durham, NH

  • Trent Spiner – President, New Hampshire Press Association.

The panel will be moderated by First Amendment attorney Gregory V. Sullivan, a board member of both sponsoring organizations, who represents various media outlets in open government cases.

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

Admission is free and open to the public. The Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications is at 749 E. Industrial Park Drive, Manchester.

NH Constitution – Part I Article 8 — All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.

Contact:

NEFAC:  Justin Silverman,  mail@nefirstamendment.org  508.983.6006

Nackey Loeb School: David Tirrell-Wysocki, dtwysocki@loebschool.org 603.627.0005

RTKNH: David Saad, RightToKnowNH@gmail.com   RightToKnowNH.wordpress.com

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Bealo: Changing TRSD auditors “Recipe for Disaster.”

Less than 1% of the school district’s voting population turned out for Timberlane’s annual Deliberative Session on Friday night, Feb 10, 2017. The vast majority of those in attendance were employees of the district.

Two things of note occurred during the meeting.

  • A motion was made by Arthur Green to cut $1.6 million from the proposed operating budget. Since the default budget is inflated but cannot be touched by the people, the strategy was to lower the proposed budget to make it what an honest default budget should have been.  This way the voters would have the choice between an honest default budget or a dishonest default budget that is $200,000 more than the district’s actual proposed budget.  The small crowd knew full well the voters overall would go for the honest default budget so in their self-interest they voted to deny everyone in the district an honest choice.
  • A Citizen’s Petitioned Warrant Article to force the district to change auditors every four years was changed to remove any change at all. The motion to gut this Warrant Article was made by Dan Guide and seconded by Peter Bealo in evident cooperation. A majority of the school board and the budget committee voted for the amendment.

As far as I can learn, our district has never changed auditors and we’ve been around  53 years. Best business practice is to change auditors frequently to prevent the parties from becoming too comfortable with one another. “Frequently” does not mean after a generation or two – but this is the irresponsible standard of care your school board and SAU board has for your money.

In support of the motion to gut my warrant article (yes, it was mine…) Peter Bealo, the chairman of the school board said it would be “a recipe for disaster” to change auditors in the same year as changing business administrators.

If the chairman of a publicly traded company made that statement, there would be a run on the company’s stock so severe he or she would be fired that same day.

If what Mr. Bealo said is true, it is a shameful state of affairs. It is isn’t true, it shouldn’t have been said.  Either way Peter Bealo should be fired — along with every school board  and budget committee member who supported the change to the warrant article, including Mrs. Sherman who is currently seeking re-election.

You get the government you deserve and the tax bill right along with it.

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Legal Fees for RTK Cases May be Coming

NH’s House Judiciary Committee has voted 10-8 in favor of  recommending a bill put forward by Right to Know NH that would lower the threshold for awarding legal fees to plaintiffs who must go to court in order to obtain public information.

Below you will find the majority report on HB 365 written by Judiciary Committee member, Rep. Dan Hynes.  It is followed by the minority report written by Rep. Sandra Keans.

 

This bill amends RSA 91-A:8 to mandate attorney’s fees whenever a petitioner is successful in a 91-A lawsuit at superior court. Under the present law, attorney’s fees can only be awarded if “the court finds that the public body, public agency, or person knew or should have known that the conduct engaged in was in violation of this chapter.” As determined in the methodology related in the bill’s fiscal note: “The Department of Justice reports that during the past two years, 10 lawsuits have been filed under RSA 91-A. The state was ordered to pay attorney’s fees in one matter during the last two years, in the amount of $9,348. Other litigants unsuccessfully sought attorneys’ fees but the court denied the fees because it could not conclude the state knew or should have known there was a violation of the statute.” Since attorney’s fees have been awarded only once (10% of the time), there is little incentive for the government to provide required information under the right to know law. In many circumstances it would appear cost effective for the government agency to deny the request and hope the person does not pursue litigation. Even if the person is ultimately successful, the government agency will not have to make that person whole by paying their attorney’s fees. This bill would encourage the government to provide information under the right to know law. If the government does not properly respond to a right to know request, there is additional accountability. Presumably, more lawyers would take right to know cases and more cases would be filed. The present law already has adequate protection for the government entities. Under RSA 91-A:8, II: “The court may award attorney’s fees to a public body or public agency or employee or member thereof, for having to defend against a lawsuit under the provisions of this chapter, when the court finds that the lawsuit is in bad faith, frivolous, unjust, vexatious, wanton, or oppressive.” If passed, this law would likely only allow fees to the petitioner where they hire an attorney, not where they proceed pro se. Under Rule 3.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers: “A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous, which includes a good faith argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law.” Presumably, there should not be any increase in frivolous litigation as the current laws already effectively prohibit such conduct. It would not be appropriate to allow either party to recover attorney’s fees if they are successful in litigation. This would have the effect of even fewer litigants pursuing complaints if they are likely to have to pay thousands of dollars in the event their lawsuit is not successful.

The minority report on the bill from the committee was written by Rep. Sandra Keans:

The minority of the committee believes this bill is unnecessary and may in fact have unintended consequences. Since the passage of the original right-to-know law there have been changes to strengthen it almost every year, either by the legislature or the court. Plaintiffs currently can make a showing to the court that they deserve reimbursements of their costs if they prevail. Under this legislation, if they win, they would always be reimbursed. That is not true for your local community. That plaintiff may be just a citizen or a huge corporation. Your community would need to appropriate money to cover. Also, through the years, as word of suits become published, more and more communities are training employees to recognize valid requests in response.

 

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TRSD Deliberative Postponed to Friday Night

Word just out that Timberlane’s Deliberative Session has been postponed to tomorrow night.

Friday, Feb 10,  7 pm    Performing Arts Center

Arrive at 6:30 pm to allow time to register to vote.

 

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As of 11:45 a.m. Deliberative Still On

School District Moderator, Steve Ranlett, we are told, is responsible for calling for a postponement of tonight’s TRSD Deliberative Session.

So far he has announced no postponement.

He says he is checking with authorities about road conditions between 1 pm and 3 pm.

 

 

 

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