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Alderman Levasseur argues Manchester has no right to release emails

Staff Report
March 25. 2014 10:09PM

MANCHESTER — Alderman-at-large Joe Kelly Levasseur Tuesday asked Hillsborough County Superior Court North Judge Diane Nicolosi to issue an injunction stopping the city from releasing emails that he says are not subject to the right-to-know law.

Levasseur filed suit last month to block release of emails sought by radio host Rich Girard. Girard had requested, and obtained, copies of a group of Levasseur emails that had been requested by a New Hampshire Union Leader reporter last summer.

Girard used his personal flash drive to obtain the first set of emails. He then filed a request Nov. 19 for additional Levasseur emails, which include emails related to the city dog park. Former alderman Phil Greazzo, a driving force behind the dog park, has also requested those emails.

Girard’s attorney, Ed Mosca, and Deputy City Solicitor Tom Arnold argued emails that go through the city server, which they do if constituents go to the website and click on Levasseur’s AOL email, are governmental documents subject to the right-to-know law.

Representing himself, Levasseur said emails between constituents and himself, if not forwarded to city officials, should be private and not subject to right-to-know requests. If they are, it would have a chilling effect on constituents’ willingness to make complaints, he said.

But Mosca said Levasseur is arguing the release of the documents would damage his constituents, so he has no standing to seek to block the release. It would have to be the constituent bringing the suit, said Mosca.

Arnold said he met with Levasseur and let Levasseur screen the emails in the second batch requested by Girard and Greazzo, allowing Levasseur to select those he believed were exempt from the provisions of the right-to-know law.

Arnold asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the city has interpreted the right-to-know law provisions as allowing the release.

He said it is the city’s position that people who use the city website to reach Levasseur know they are using the city server, so the email is a city document. But Levasseur repeatedly complained to Nicolosi that the city is giving away information it shouldn’t.

Levasseur also complained that the city doesn’t charge for copies of documents, or for the time city employees spend collecting and sorting them. Arnold said the law makes that discretionary and said the city has made a decision not to charge. If Levasseur disagrees with that policy, he can take it to the board of mayor and aldermen.

At one point during the hearing, Nicolosi questioned why the decision about release of information isn’t a political question to be decided by the board of mayor and aldermen. At another point, she suggested that what a city decides as a matter of policy isn’t something a court should be involved in.

Although Levasseur sought an immediate decision on his request for an injunction, the judge said she was taking the matter under advisement.

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