The dogged work and persistence of Nashua resident Laurie Ortolano has led to a shakeup in the Nashua Assessors Office. Nashua state Rep. Jan Schmidt wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Is Schmidt, a Democrat, writing legislation to better police the assessors? Of course not.
She wants to discourage citizens like Ortolano from pursuing the Right to Know requests that led to the shakeup.
Schmidt would authorize public bodies to make a citizen pay for the time (including benefits) of a government employee in looking up and producing public records if the time went over five hours in a month.
We can see it now: Sorry, madam. But we put our best man on it (the selectman’s brother-in-law) and it took him 10 hours of time to look up that tax card you want. That will be $500, please.
Nashua’s Mayor Jim Donchess said recently it’s not cost-productive when assessors have to work on record requests rather than their jobs. But as we recall it, the problem Ms. Ortolano uncovered with her requests was that those jobs weren’t being done all that well.
We will acknowledge that there are some gadflys who like to harass hard-working town and city workers with meaningless repetitive requests. But there has to be a better way of addressing that problem without discouraging legitimate inquiries.
New Hampshire might want to look at how Texas law handles these issues.
Texas applies its documents’ fee only to repeat requesters and sets a threshhold of 15 hours in a month (36 in one year) before a fee is imposed.
The Texas rule also excludes legal services and news media from the fees.
Blocking the public from being able to look at public records is not in the public’s interest.