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Manchester aldermen OK right-to-know policy

MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to approve a new policy governing how the city responds to right-to-know (RTK) requests, but not before debating whether it would limit government transparency.

The policy, proposed by Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry, would establish a protocol that all departments would follow in dealing with public information requests. The more controversial provisions would impose copy fees for electronic records; require payment for records before the process of retrieving and reproducing the records is undertaken; require that a signed request form be submitted to the clerk if the RTK law is invoked; and that names and other identifying information of constituents be redacted from records.

One of the chief opponents of the changes is radio host Rich Girard, who frequently files RTK requests. He submitted a letter to the board from attorney Ed Mosca, who argued that several parts of the policy conflict with the state right-to-know law, RSA 91-A and past legal precedent.

The letter states in part, “The language of the right-to-know law does not authorize the city to assess the same charge for electronic copies as for physical copies because their ‘actual costs’ are not the same. The ‘actual cost’ of the physical copy includes the paper on which the copy is made. There is, of course, no paper or toner used when the copy is made electronically.”

Only two aldermen, however, spoke against the policy, Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy and Ward 7’s William Shea.

Roy said he thought the changes would make it more “cumbersome” for residents to get information.

“One of my favorite things I’ve wanted to do as an alderman was to bring more transparency and accountability in government. I think this is going in the opposite way,” he said.

But Barry insisted the policy was carefully drafted.

“I worked pretty hard on this, with (City Clerk) Matt Normand, and (City Solicitor) Tom Clark. This wasn’t our language alone. We did a lot of research. I called the attorney general with reference to electronic records about what they do. If someone goes in with a disk, any document they put on that, they charge 20 cents.”

The aldermen voted to pass the policy, with only Roy, Shea and Ed Osborne, Ward 5, voting against it.

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