MANCHESTER - A Right to Know symposium held Friday at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communication appears to bolster the case that the City of Rochester's denying The Rochester Voice requests for government documents as being unlawful.
"The law has a presumption in favor of transparency," said Gilles Bissonette, ACLU-NH Legal Director for the school, who held a primer on the law.
In fact, the preamble to New Hampshire's Right-to Know Law states: "Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of this chapter is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people." - RSA 91-A:1.
Citing case law, Bissonette further explained that courts examining Right to Know issues generally construe "provisions favoring disclosure broadly, while construing exemptions narrowly."
"When a public entity seeks to avoid disclosure of material under the Right-to-Know Law, that entity bears a heavy burden to shift the balance toward nondisclosure" he noted.
Earlier this month the president of the New England First Amendment Coalition echoed Bissonette's sentiments, saying the City of Rochester's decision to deny release of government documents to The Rochester Voice under the Right to Know law is "unconstitutional."
Greg V. Sullivan, Esq., who is also General Counsel for the Union Leader Corporation, said the digital daily's rights and privileges under 91-A should be immediately reinstated by the city.
"The Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution states that 'the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states,'" Sullivan said. "N.H. RSA 91-A contains no language relating to the residence of a requestor. The records are public records."
Rochester City Attorney Terence O'Rourke said on April 12 that the city would no longer provide The Rochester Voice with city documents under the Right to Know law just a few minutes after The Voice requested documents regarding a police report detailing why a former city councilor was given a no-trespass order for City Hall and city tax offices at the James W. Foley Memorial Community Center.
O'Rourke's email of April 12 stated: "As you know, RSA 91-A:4, which pertains to a public bodies obligation to send records to a requestor, only applies to citizens of New Hampshire. Based on research, it is clear that you are not a citizen of New Hampshire and the "Rochester Voice" is not a citizen of New Hampshire either. Unless you can provide proof of citizenship, I will no longer be providing you with governmental records."
Since the April 12 email O'Rourke has failed to respond to several Right to Know requests made by The Voice.
The City of Rochester's strategy to silence The Voice is part of a sweeping effort that includes city officials refusing to respond to even simple requests for comment on dozens of topics, many that are not even controversial or contentious.
As an example, Rochester Mayor Paul Callaghan has not responded to any emails from The Rochester Voice since July 23, 2022.
Similarly City Manager Blaine Cox has refused to return countless emails sent him by The Voice since last July.
Both the New Hampshire Secretary of State's Office, where The Rochester Voice trade name is on file since 2017; and the Attorney Generals Office have refused comment on the City of Rochester's violation of Freedom of the Press enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constituion.
Ironically, the city's own page dedicated to providing information on the Right to Know law never mentions the "citizen" requirement.
To view the page click here.