Deerfield sued again over right-to-know law
DEERFIELD — Unhappy with the way meetings are being conducted by town boards, a local woman is suing the town over right-to-know issues for the second time in a decade and has appealed the most recent ruling against her to the Supreme Court.
“All the business in the town is being done over the phone or behind the scenes,” said resident Harriet Cady.
But the town and, thus far, the courts, believe otherwise.
In 2001, Cady sued the town of Deerfield, contending that some of the boards weren’t properly posting all of their meetings as required by the state’s right-to-know law (RSA 91-A). In a settlement agreement between the town and Cady, the town paid Cady’s filing fees for the suit and agreed to “continue its practice of advising all municipal boards and committees” that meetings must be posted in two public places 24 hours before the meeting is held.
The settlement also required that Cady follow the provisions of the law as well, including asking to inspect town records only during regular business hours, not inhibiting town employees from carrying on their usual duties while looking at the records, not asking records to be explained and, when possible, making appointments or requesting the records in writing in advance.
In 2011, Cady again sued the town, which then had a different board of selectmen and a different town administrator, stating that the town’s Open Space subcommittee had failed to post its meetings properly.
John Reagan, chairman of the Deerfield Board of Selectmen, said that in 2010, the board learned that the Open Space subcommittee had not been posting its meetings because the volunteer group didn’t realize that its work fell under the auspices of RSA 91-A.
“They believed they were a workgroup,” said Reagan. “They did not intentionally violate the Right to Know law and there was nothing malicious in their intentions.”
Though letters informing all board and committee members of Right to Know rules were sent out town-wide and meetings were held to discuss how the rules under RSA 91-A apply, Reagan said Cady forged ahead with her lawsuit. But in September, the court ruled that the boards had not “willfully” neglected its responsibilities under RSA 91-A, and the suit was dismissed.
But Cady, after filing numerous requests for reconsideration, is now appealing her latest suit to the state Supreme Court because she said she disagreed with the court’s interpretation of the law.
“The law doesn’t say anything about the violation needing to be willful,” Cady said.
Cady is also suing the town for contempt of court because she said that in December, she drove by the town offices and noticed that vehicles belonging to Town Administrator Leslie Boswak and several of the members of the board of selectmen were parked outside. She said she went into the building, walked up the stairs and overheard the selectmen and Boswak discussing town business in Boswak’s office. Cady said that the meeting had never been posted and she is now suing the town for violating the provisions of the 2001 settlement that said that municipal boards would properly post their meetings.
Reagan said the meeting in December had been posted in public buildings, in the local newsletter and online. Reagan also said that Cady has failed to comply with the 2001 settlement agreement and “continually makes demand after demand upon the town of Deerfield.”
Those demands involve both the time of Deerfield’s town employees and thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money, Reagan said.
The town spent over $8,100 in 2011 defending itself against Cady’s suits, and for the month of January 2012 alone, the legal bills have reached over $4,000 due to Cady’s lawsuits, Reagan said.
“This entire situation has been a tremendous drain of resources for this community,” he said.
But Cady said the suits are her way of ensuring that the people of Deerfield have access to information.
“This is a government run amuck against the Right to Know law,” she said.
The contempt hearing against the town is scheduled to be heard on March 21 at Rockingham Superior Court. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Cady’s case, but a date has not yet been set.
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