The public “has a substantial interest in information about what its government is up to…”

Those words by New Hampshire Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald ought to be memorized, and taken to heart, by anyone who serves in any public position in New Hampshire. It might save taxpayers a lot of money, as well as improve how the government works for its citizens.

The chief justice wrote them in a unanimous opinion that rejected attempts, initially by the Town of Canaan, to keep secret its investigation of one of its police officers. The Valley News of Lebanon had found out and reported on a complaint of excessive force by officer Samuel Provenza (now a state police trooper). After the Valley News report, the town paid an outside firm to investigate the matter.

Public money, public department, public interest, right? Not according to the town, which declined to share the report. It also paid out $160,000 to settle with the woman who had accused Provenza of excessive force.

The newspaper went to court to get the report the public had paid for. This was opposed by Provenza, who claimed its release would be an invasion of his privacy. The superior court ruled, correctly, that the report was subject to disclosure under the Right-to-Know law.

The town backed away at that point but Provenza appealed to the supreme court, which made it crystal clear where it stands on matters of public employees doing the public’s business. It noted that the report focused on Provenza’s conduct as an employee, not his private life. It cited a similar decision by another state’s court that a police officer “should expect that his or her conduct will be subject to greater scrutiny. This is the nature of the job.”

Chief Justice MacDonald noted that the public also has an interest in “knowing whether a government investigation is comprehensive and accurate.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire represented the Valley News. Attorney Gregory V. Sullivan, representing the Union Leader and the New England First Amendment Coalition, filed a friend of the court brief, also arguing on behalf of the public’s right to know what is being done in the public’s name.

The MacDonald decision, we hope, has made that clear to the public’s servants.

Friday, May 20, 2022
Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The American Red Cross needs to step up and let Eliot Webster donate blood. We suspect that is the conclusion of pretty much anyone who read City Matters columnist Mark Hayward’s piece in our Monday edition.

We know that people interested in disability rights were eager to read Mark Hayward’s column (see related editorial). We know this because several of them inquired as to how they might “get around” the UnionLeader.com paywall.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

For most Granite Staters, issues regarding landfills are out of sight and thus out of mind. But if you live near Forest Lake in Dalton or Whitefield, or you like to hike along or sit beside the Ammonoosuc River in Bethlehem, the siting or expansion of a landfill nearby tends to concentrate t…

If it weren’t cost-prohibitive, we would expect Gov. Chris Sununu, House Speaker Sherm Packard, and Senate President Chuck Morse might be burning the midnight oil this week trying to resolve the congressional redistricting issue that overzealous House Republicans have handed them. As elected…

Having quickly gone into secret session at its special meeting last Wednesday night, the Manchester school board emerged later in the evening to pat itself on the back and announce it had selected the most qualified candidate to be the new superintendent of schools.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Soaring property values, higher taxes and explosive inflation have real world impacts; and for some with burdens to begin with the toll is dire. Yet hope has a way of showing up in New Hampshire when hardship befalls us, even if you might have to wait a beat for it to knock.

Once again, a New Hampshire community has been kept in the dark while its police chief was kept from his duties for months, on paid leave, with no reason given. Attorney General John Formella needs to shake up a system that breeds public distrust and puts law enforcement in an even tougher p…

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

New Hampshire courts are continuing to side with the people when the people’s government insists on trying to keep public information to itself.

There were just two qualified applicants for the Manchester school superintendent job? That’s it? It doesn’t seem like the fruits of a very thorough or widespread search or of much outside interest in coming to work for the city that Mayor Joyce Craig insists is making great progress on ever…