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Open government advocates honored with annual awards

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 18. 2016 12:07AM
Brian Parsons, left, from Manchester, explains the Uber rideshare app to Sylvio Dupuis, former Manchester mayor, during the annual Nackey S. Loeb School's First Amendment Awards held at the Palace Theatre in Manchester on Thursday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Donna Green of Sandown and the late David Pearl of Hooksett, two tireless advocates for open government at the local level, shared the 14th Annual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award presented at the Palace Theatre Thursday night.

Both served on local boards and battled within the system to bring more transparency and openness to public affairs.

Pearl, who passed away in June, was an active member of the town’s budget committee and school board.

“He always fought the good fight right up to his death making sure peoples’ voices were heard,” said John Lyscars, a family friend who served with Pearl on the Hooksett School Board.

Through his video production company, Pearl was the prime mover for getting local meetings televised on cable access.

Advocating for his daughter, who attends Pembroke Academy, Pearl last May tried to speak during Pembroke School Board meetings about the controversial manner in which the school handled the arrest of a faculty member. The local board threatened to arrest him.

Pearl and his defenders convinced the local board to update its policies to provide for public comment before every meeting.

Green is credited with dragging her local school board into the 21st century in how it made digital documents publicly available.

“I think it’s very easy to respond with electronic documents and when they don’t, I think they should be reproached,” Green said during an interview.

As Sandown’s representative on the four-town board, Green sued after the staff refused to email her public documents containing salary information. Administrators said Green could only review the records in person and pay for photocopies.

In a landmark ruling, the state Supreme Court unanimously found in April the public can request records in electronic form and advised Gov.-elect Chris Sununu and the next Legislature to update the Right-to-Know Law to explicitly carry out that intent.

Claire Ebel, the retired executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire was given the Quill & Ink Award for her life’s work standing up for New Hampshire residents.

“When I got the letter informing me of the award, I thought it was a hoax,” Ebel quipped, referring to her liberal politics in contrast to the late Nackey Loeb’s politically conservative leanings.

For three decades, Ebel served as an advocate for openness in government and often corrected those running legislative committees or other veteran lawmakers when they failed to conduct their business in the open.

“We still have a ways to go with a Right-to-Know Law that’s very limiting and law enforcement that likes to withhold information compared to what we see in other states,” Ebel said.

Breaking with tradition, the ceremony did not have a keynote speaker; two years ago President-Elect Donald Trump gave the address, last year it was MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews.

Instead, along the lines of the New Hampshire play, “Our Town: A Play in Three Acts,” the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications presented “Our School: The First Amendment in Five Acts.”

New Hampshire media, religious and civil figures brought the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment to life with stories of why those freedoms are important to all Americans.

Nackey Loeb School President & Chairman Joseph W. McQuaid said it was the brainchild of lead event sponsor People’s United Bank executive Dianne Mercier along with St. Mary’s Bank community relations coordinator Judi Window and the New Hampshire Union Leader’s Katie McQuaid Cote.

“They said instead of just another speaker how about a production that talks about the First Amendment and brings it to life,” Joseph McQuaid said.

“There is no better time after the political wars we just had to speak and explain the five freedoms of the First Amendment,” he said.

Rev. Jerome Day, a former journalist and pastor of St. Raphael Parish and an instructor at St. Anselm College spoke on the Freedom of Religion.

WGIR talk show host and author Jack Heath spoke on Freedom of Speech.

Joseph McQuaid, also publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News, spoke on Freedom of the Press.

Arnie Alpert, director of the American Friends Service Committee, presented Freedom of Peaceful Assembly.

Ann Marie Morse spoke on the Freedom to Petition the Government. Morse turned her personal tragedy into activism, convincing the New Hampshire Legislature and then Congress to adopt Michelle’s Law, which permits college students to take medical leave without losing health insurance coverage. Morse’s daughter, Michelle, continued as a full-time college student while battling the cancer that took her life.

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