Right To Know – when Government turns on the Citizens that own it

by Skip

NH Right To KnowThe ‘Grok chronicled the efforts of co-founder Doug Lambert and friend Tom Tardiff when the Belknap County Delegation wanted to hide how they voted for the new County Sheriff Wiggins.  When the Delegation voted in secret, the 91-A demand was given, and the Delegation refused.  It eventually went to court where Doug and Tom, pro se (acting as their own lawyers), were victorious and proved that the “Peoples’ work” must be done in public. This ruling set a precedent that has been used in some subsequent Right To Know (RTK) court decisions.

The problem is that if our government decides to NOT abide by both the letter and the spirit of the law and starts stalling tactics, starts to hide data, or outright refuses to obey the law, what’s a citizen to do?  Right now, one can only take the offender(s) to court which is either a long, time-consuming process (The paper! You should have seen the column of paper!) or going through the expense of hiring lawyers.  Hopefully, another course of action will result from this (emphasis mine, reformatted):

A commission created by the state Legislature to strengthen New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know law got off to a late start, but its chairman is confident the group will be able to come up with recommendations to create what one member called “an express lane for citizens to get satisfaction.” The state Legislature recently passed and Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law HB 178, creating a commission to study new ways to resolve Right-to-Know law complaints outside of an expensive and time-consuming lawsuit. Anyone who now files a request under RSA 91:A, the state’s Right-to-Know law, and is denied has little recourse but to go to the courts. The newly appointed commission hopes to come up with an alternative route.

“Citizens often have to go to exceptional costs and great lengths to get what is actually theirs — information about how government operates,” said state Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, who was elected chairman of the commission by the members present for the organizational meeting.

Harriet Cady is a founder of the advocacy group Right to Know New Hampshire, which has a seat on the commission, and is a long-time advocate for the cause. She agreed to serve as clerk for the 13-member commission composed of elected officials and representatives from various stakeholder groups, including the New Hampshire Press Association, Municipal Association and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This is something I have held near and dear to my heart for many years,” Cady said. “It’s too difficult for most citizens to enforce the Right to Know Law. They give up when they reach the point of having to go to court in order to get what they need. We need to do something that makes it easier and cheaper than having to go to Superior Court.”

“I think this is going to come together rather quickly once we get some models in front of us,” said Giuda. “We want to have our work done at least a week before Nov. 1.” The group quickly developed a consensus that some sort of resolution process outside the courts, at least as a first step, is the direction to take.

I hope so.  Thus far when I have filed RSA 91-A demands, most people/entities have complied.  To be honest, the worst one was my own school district. And from what I have seen, many have trouble trying to pry taxpayer paid information out of these folks – it just seems that they believe they are unaccountable to those that have elected them (for the School Boards) and the employees that are paid for by our tax monies.

I do hope that there is a way for citizens to get an “overdrive” and expedited process.  I REALLY hope that civil penalties will be laid against the individuals that take part in obfuscation efforts (either deciding to deny access or slow rolling of providing the data) – that “qualified immunity” be stripped from these folks and that fines of hefty amounts be applied to them individually.  Yes, individually and personally, otherwise we’ll just have taxpayer monies paying the fines these jerks (and they jerks and so much more) on their behalf which defeats the purpose.

Yes, that could be construed as a variation of the “IRS option” (e.g., making examples of people). But let’s face it, when there is a penalty to be personally paid, it may well give a few that would be recalcitrant a few $$$ reasons to go “yeah, following The Law might be a good idea.”

(H/T: Union Leader)

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