Published Date Written by Michael KitchLACONIA — Former mayor and government watchdog Tom Tardif has brought suit in Belknap County Superior Court challenging the election of the current officers of the Belknap County Convention by secret ballot.
In a petition filed last week, Tardif and David Gammon, representing themselves, charge that the election of Representatives Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) as chairman and Bob Greemore (R-Meredith) as vice-chairman at the organizational meeting on December 10 was "a clear attempt to circumvent the States Right-To-Know laws."
Citing the minutes, Tardif notes that when the organizational meeting convened "a senior member referred to a case from 1971 and indicated that the election of officers should be done by secret ballot." By a show of hands all 16 members of the convention present concurred. Worsman and Greemore were elected by a secret paper ballot.
Tardif claims that the Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A) includes no exception for secret ballots, but on the contrary stipulates that "Except for town meetings, school district meetings, and elections, no vote while in open session may be taken by secret ballot."
Tardif said yesterday that he reluctantly filed suit after raising the issue with the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office, which declined to offer a legal opinion on the matter.
The "senior member" was Representative Don Flanders (R-Laconia) acting on the advice of the N.H. House Clerk Karen Wadsworth, who relied on an advisory opinion of the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued in 1971.
The opinion was a response to questions posed by the New Hampshire House of Representatives about the constitutionality of a bill that would have required the Speaker of House to be elected by a roll call vote. The justices explained that Part II, Article 22 of the Constitution grants the members of the House the exclusive right to determine the manner of electing the Speaker. Therefore, they ruled, that this prerogative cannot be subject to the will of the Senate, which would have to vote on the legislation, or "governed or abridged" by statute.
Tardif insists that the court's opinion does not bear on the election of officers of a county convention. "The advisory opinion is not generic but specific to the Speaker of the House of Representatives," he writes. Remarking that neither the Constitution nor the opinion expressly prohibit a roll call vote for Speaker, he emphasizes that "the Right-To-Know law forbids secret paper ballots."
Claiming that the organizational meeting was conducted improperly, Tardif challenges the legitimacy of the remainder of the meeting of December 10, which included a public hearing on the 2013 county budget, as well as the actions taken at subsequent meetings of the county convention.
Tardif has asked the court to find that the convention failed to comply with the Right-To-Know Law and order it to reconvene an organizational meeting in accordance with the statute.
With 16 members present and voting, Worsman topped Representative Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) to claim the chairmanship by a margin of nine-to-seven. The partisan makeup of the current convention is 12 Republicans and 6 Democrats. One of each was missing on the night of the election.
In 2008 Tardif joined Gilford political activist Doug Lambert in challenging the convention's secret ballot election of Craig Wiggin to fill the vacant county sheriff's position. That case went all the way to the NH. Supreme Court, which decided in the plaintiff's favor in a landmark Right-to-Know ruling.