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Open up government: Right to Know in Rochester

June 10. 2018 6:45PM

What is the point of having a Right-to-Know Law if New Hampshire municipalities don’t follow it?

Public bodies, such as the Rochester Planning Board, are subject to state laws requiring open meetings and open records. But Rochester sends new projects to a seven-member technical review group, and won’t let the public in.

Paul Martin is suing Rochester, claiming that he has a right to know when a city committee is discussing his proposed development.

Municipalities may not evade the law requiring open meetings by subletting them to another level of public officials. There is no reason why any stage of the planning process should be shielded from the public.

This does not mean that members of the public must participate in technical discussions, but if applicants want to be in the room while city officials discuss their projects, they have every right.

The Legislature was well on its way to updating the Right-to-Know Law, but ran into a brick wall. The House killed Senate proposals. The Senate killed House proposals. And the state is left with an outdated law that many cities and towns fail to follow.

The attorney general’s office provides written guidance to local officials on complying with the open meetings statute. Martin’s experience in Rochester shows that some officials have a lot to learn.

We hope the next Legislature will update the Right-to-Know Law without succumbing to intercameral squabbling.

Editorial Rochester

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