The City of Nashua, under the Administration of Mayor Jim Donchess and “Right to Know Coordinator” Jesse Neumann, decided that they were above the law. Refusing to provide “responsive records” claiming the demand was “overly broad” or (get this) too unorganized to get the records (I wonder if this is on purpose?).
In issuing her Right To Know for email communications, Laura Colquhoun felt that her Government was supposed to be open and transparent. She really did!
Donchess and Neumann said no.
A Judge just said “Screw you – you WILL say YES to Ms. Colquhoun. Hand’em over!”
THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
HILLSBOROUGH, SS. SUPERIOR COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT N o . 2021-CV-00163
City of Nashua
The plaintiff, Laura Colquhoun, has brought a petition in which she seeks access to records from the City of Nashua’s (the “City”) assessing department (the “Department”). On April 5, 2021, the Court held a hearing on the plaintiff’s petition. After consideration of the evidence, arguments, and the applicable law, the Court finds and rules as follows.
On March 11, 2021, the plaintiff made a written request for access to public records relating to the Department. (See Compl. at Ex. A.) The request stated, in part: “[u]nder NH Right-to-Know, please provide me with all email communications between Ms. Kleiner [the City’s Administrative Services Director] and Mr. Richard Vincent [the City’s Chief of Assessing] for the period of January 1, 2021 to March 1, 2021.” (Id.) The City denied the request on March 18, 2021, stating: “[t]his request for ‘all email’ is overbroad and not reasonably described under RSA 91-A:4, IV.” (Id. at Ex. B.) This action followed on March 25, 2021. (Id.)
So Ordered (emphasis mine):
In conclusion, Right-to-Know “requests are not a game of Battleship. The requester should not have to score a direct hit on the records sought based on the precise phrasing of his request.” Gov’t Accountability Project v. U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Security, 355 F.Supp.3d 7, 12 (D.D.C. 2018). Here, the Court finds that the request reasonably described the records such that it enabled “a professional employee of the agency who was familiar with the subject area of the request to locate the record with a reasonable amount of effort.” Marks, 578 F.2d at 263.
Accordingly, the Court orders the City to conduct a reasonable search for responsive records in accordance with its burden under the Right-to-Know law.
In this game of Battleship, the Judge won with one hit.
Yes, there is much more to the Case (below) but this is most of it. It shows that you can take on City Hall and win – it only takes one person with an absolute Will to have Government live up to its own RuleBook (even as it is trying to hide behind excuses worse than my 5 year old Grandson (“I can’t clean my room – it’s too messy!”).