Editor's note: This is a first of an occasional series leading up to the Oct. 4 hearing at the state's Right to Know Ombudsman's Office in the case of The Rochester Voice v. City of Rochester over the city's refusal to honor digital Right to Know requests made by The Rochester Voice. The city of Rochester contends it doesn't have to comply with such requests, because Rochester Voice editor Harrison Thorp is not a New Hampshire citizen.
ROCHESTER - In a little more than three weeks Rochester residents will find out whether a news entity must be a New Hampshire citizen to file a digital Right to Know request from the City of Rochester.
On Oct. 4 at 1 p.m. the state's Right to Know Ombudsman's Office will conduct a formal hearing on the merits of The Rochester Voice's complaint that the City of Rochester violated 91:A, the statute that lays out the basic rules for filing Right to Know requests from municipal governments across the Granite State.
91:A also provides the structure for how municipal governments must respond to Right to Know requests for government documents.
Specifically, the issue to be resolved as defined in the Ombudsman's Order of Notice is "whether the City of Rochester violated RSA 91-A:4, I and/or RSA 91-A:4, IV in regard to its denial of a request made to it on or about April 12, 2023, on the basis that the requestor was not a 'citizen of New Hampshire.'"
The Rochester Voice received the denial on April 12 a few minutes after sending a Right to Know request for documents relating to a trespass order against former City Councilor Chris Rice, who was removed from office in May 2022. The specific document requested was a police report numbered 22-41431 that supported the city's trespass order, which included City Hall and the James w. Foley Memorial Community Center.
About five minutes later, Rochester City Attorney Terence O'Rourke replied
"As you know, RSA 91-A:4, which pertains to a public bodies obligation to send records to a requester, 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."
Last month O'Rourke filed a Motion to Dismiss The Rochester Voice's complaint, citing in part, "As the obligations placed upon municipalities under RSA 91-A:4 only apply to records requests made by citizens of New Hampshire, the City now files this Motion to Dismiss for lack of standing."
The motion also argues that "while a municipality is required to provide electronic records in electronic format, it is not required to provide them by e-mail or in any other particular format requested."
It should be noted that for five years prior to April 12 the City of Rochester had regularly provided documents requested by The Rochester Voice via email.
A prehearing conference is set for Sept. 22 in Concord.