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The fight for the right-to-know goes on in Marlborough

Union Leader Correspondent

February 24. 2013 11:01PM
Marlborough resident Loretta Simonds asks the judge to accept evidence in her case against the Marlborough Select Board in Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene Friday for alleged right-to-know violations. Marlborough Select Board Administrative Assistant Sandra LaPlante is on the stand. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)

The Marlborough resident accusing her town Select Board of continued right-to-know violations is hoping the judge will impose fines ranging from $250 to $2,500 on individual town officials, a new provision of the 91-A law.

Cheshire County Superior Court judge Phillip P. Mangones said Friday he would take Loretta Simonds' request under consideration.

In June, Simonds filed a petition in Cheshire County Superior Court asking the court to find the board in contempt of a court order not to violate the right-to-know law - four months after Judge Mangones had found the board guilty of numerous violations.

In Mangones' January 2012 decision he wrote, "Petitioners are correct that the decisions to hire the consultant and to have the consultant gather initial information were made outside of a properly held meeting with notice and minutes. In other words, the decision creating the necessity for the Board to vote to 'withdraw from the project' were made outside of the open meeting process required by RSA 91-A:2, I. The so-called four-town meetings constituted meetings under the provision of RSA chapter 91-A," he wrote.

Mangones also called the board out for "obviating the spirit of the right-to-know law" by holding an unlawful electronic meeting in which a previous meeting's minutes were edited.

At the time of the decision, Selectman John Northcott said the board unknowingly violated the right-to-know law and had learned its lesson.

In her new petition, Simonds alleges the Select Board continued to hold improper non-public meetings and make decisions outside of a public meeting. She also said board members have been holding public meetings in which their speech is inaudible and or indiscernible.

In court Friday, Selectmen Gina Paight, Beverly Harris and Northcott and Select Board Administrative Assistant Sandra LaPlante defended themselves against Simonds' charges.

Northcott said it is untrue that the board meets at unposted meetings to conduct town business such as to sign the town warrant. Board members go to the town office and sign the warrant individually once LaPlante lets them know the warrant is ready, he said.

"Typically over the years, we come in and sign them individually," Northcott said.

When LaPlante took the stand, the circumstances of how unsealed town documents from 2002 to 2010 were released to Simonds was brought to light.

LaPlante said Simonds had made a record request for all town records from 1960 to present.

"I was a little bit flabbergasted when I got it because I knew I would have to do a little research to locate them. They were not readily available to me," LaPlante told town attorney Matthew Serge while on the stand.

But in doing so LaPlante gave Simonds all sealed non-public town records from 2002 and 2010 in the electronic records. LaPlante said she did not realize she had released the confidential information till Simonds listed it as a right-to-know violation in the contempt of court motion last June.

LaPlante told Serge how upset she was when she found out.

"I was devastated because I had no intention of doing that," she said.

After Serge rested his case, Simonds asked that Mangones accept all of the sealed documents into evidence. Mangones accepted her motion on the condition they remain sealed, and all parties named in the documents are notified of their inclusion in the file.

Serge asked for an injunction against Simonds that would prohibit her from talking about the sealed documents.

Mangones closed the hearing Friday saying he would take additional evidence from Simonds and allow the town 10 days to object or supplement that new evidence.

Outside the courtroom, Northcott said he is hopeful the judge would throw out the contempt of court motion of Simonds, since the board had not knowingly made any right-to-know violations.

"We have been religious on posting meetings," he said.

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