Judge agrees with Tardif & Gammon that Belknap Convention violated Right-to-Know law by electing officers with secret ballots

LACONIA —Justice Timothy Vaughan of Grafton County Superior Court has ruled that as Tom Tardif and Dave Gammon charged, the Belknap County Convention violated the state's "Right-to-Know" law by electing its officers by secret ballot late last year, but because it corrected its error the judge declined to order further action.

When the convention convened on December 10, 2012, Representative Don Flanders (R-Laconia), the acting chairman, told the members that Karen Wadsworth, clerk of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, advised him that the election could be conducted by secret ballot on the strength of an opinion of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The featured attraction was a race for the chairmanship between Rep. Colette Worsman of Meredith and Rep. Frank Tilton of Laconia, both Republicans, which Worsman won without any of the representatives having to make their choice public.

In February Tardif and Gammon filed suit. A month later the convention re-elected its officers by a public roll call vote and in April "reaffirmed" the results with yet another vote. Tilton did not again challenge Worsman for the chairmanship on either occasion.

Vaughan agreed that the convention "directly violated" RSA 91-A:2, II, which prescribes that all meetings of a public body shall be open to the public and that "no vote while in open session may be taken by secret ballot."

Noting that the convention "realized their error" and held a second election, which with only one exception mirrored the outcome of the first, Vaughan held that to strike the election and order another "would be an exercise in futility and a further waste of resources". Likewise,the justice found no evidence that the convention acted in bad faith a and declined to impose civil penalties or order that its members undergo remedial training in the law.

However, Vaughan ruled that because the convention did not conduct a proper election until Tardif and Gammon filed suit, their action was required to ensure compliance with the "Right-to-Know" law and consequently, they were entitled to the cost of bringing the litigation. Since Tardif and Gammon represented themselves, their costs consist of filing fees.

Attorney Paul Fitzgerald, who represented the convention, said that Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County Superior Court recused himself, which may explain why the case was heard in Grafton County.