Rochester citizens side with The Rochester Voice in Right to Know dispute

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Rochester residents human, left, and Tom Kacynski at an explosive City Council workshop on April 13. (City of Rochester screen captures)

ROCHESTER - A pair of Rochester residents voiced objections on Tuesday over City Attorney Terence O'Rourke's decision to discontinue compliance with The Rochester Voice regarding its Right to Know requests for governmental documents as required by the state's 91-A statute.
"The fact that the city attorney would deny a Right to Know request from a news agency proves to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that these violations of the Right to Know law are intentional, because no rational human being being could possibly screw up compliance with the Right to Know law to such an extant as we've seen from the city attorney," said human, who officially changed his name about 10 years ago.
The city had been supplying The Rochester Voice with such documents routinely for several years, but was suddenly cut off when the award-winning digital daily sought documents regarding the city's trespass order against former councilor Chris Rice, who was removed from office last May following a chaotic City Council trial that was run by Mayor Paul Callaghan, one of Rice's accusers.
About five minutes after The Rochester Voice sent the aforementioned Right to Know, O'Rourke replied by email, "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."
Human said that he also had submitted many Right to Know requests, and the answers that came back were often "vague" or "dodgy."
"It's clear the city attorney's office has been dodging Right to Know requests to the best of his ability for quite a while," human noted. "This practice has been going on for several years.
Referencing The Rochester Voice's recent denial of governmental records, human added, "This (Right to Know) request was from a news agency. The public's right to know is available to every citizen, but it is most important that the press be allowed access to governmental records."
He urged O'Rourke to take to the podium at an upcoming City Council meeting to explain his actions.
"The City Attorney should come explain himself right here to the City Council and the people of Rochester, justifying his actions," human said. "I'm hoping that the City Council can correct the city attorney's conduct, because if they don't, the citizens of of Rochester will."
State Rep. Tom Kaczynski called The Rochester Voice's Right to Know denial by the city a "troubling development."
"You might say it is a cancer," he added, referencing Deputy Mayor Pete Lachapelle's reference at an April 18 City Council workshop where he said there was a cancer on the board.
Kaczynski turned the tables saying it's possible the cancer was at the highest levels of Rochester's government.
"And you know why (The Rochester Voice) didn't get what (it) wanted? They said (The Rochester Voice) wasn't a citizen of Rochester," he added.
"Our legal department," he said with a smirk. "Our freedom loving legal department. Now I bet if the Wall Street Journal called up tomorrow and asked to do an article on the economic development success of Rochester or the New York Times called and wanted to do an article on the superior school achievement of the Rochester Public Schools, would you deny them cause they weren't citizen of Rochester? I doubt it. Some of the stuff I've seen here tonight reminds me of the mob."
Kaczynski, who said he'd also been frustrated with Rochester replies to Right to Know requests, went on to credit The Rochester Voice with providing "actual information" to the people of Rochester.
"It's well sourced, they're (Rochester) Chamber members and they've won several awards for journalism." he noted.
He ended by saying that openness of government is key.
"Transparent government is the cure for this form of cancer," he said.

To read a Rochester Voice story from last June along a similar vein click here.

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April 25, 2023 at 4:11pm
In 2015 NH’s AG, Joseph A. Foster wrote: “An integral part of the constitutional right of access to government is the protection of the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by Part 1, article 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution: Free speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved.”

I would also point you to Colquhoun v. City of Nashua 2022 which the NH Supreme Court found in favor of the plaintiff after she had been denied her right-to-know request because it was too broad in nature…and in Censabella v. Hillsborough County Attorney 2018, the NH Supreme Court found the right-to-know requestor can make a records request through a 3rd party, thus unknown – “The Court stated that there is no such requirement in the Right-to-Know Law, noting that nothing in the statute requires the disclosure of the petitioner in the request.”
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