OSSIPEE — Former mayor Tom Tardif's petition, alleging that the City Council violated the state Right-to-Know law (RSA 91-A) on two occasions last October, when it discussed behind closed doors the possible purchase of the Belknap Mill and the course of unrelated, pending litigation, has been denied by Justice Charles Temple of Carroll County Superior Court.
Originally filed in Belknap County Superior Court, the case was transferred to Carroll County when Justice James D. O'Neill, III recused himself.
Tardif claimed that the council failed to follow proper procedures in entering nonpublic sessions on October 14 and October 27, entered both nonpublic sessions for purposes not authorized by the law and improperly responded to his lawful request for information. He asked the court to compel the council to disclose the minutes of both nonpublic sessions.
First, Tardif charged that on both occasions the council failed to take a roll call votes to enter the nonpublic sessions as the law requires. The minutes record which councilors were present and that a roll vote was taken, bit not the votes of individual councilors. the votes of the individual councilors.
Attorney Walter Mitchell, representing the council, explained that in the absence of the city clerk, the minutes of both meetings were transcribed from recordings by a member of her staff unfamiliar with the requirements of the Right-to-Know law, who neglected to record the votes of the individual councilors. Despite the shortcomings of the minutes, he held that the audio recording show that roll call votes were taken on each motion to enter nonpublic session and all carried unanimously. Justice Temple agreed that the council complied with the law.
The Right-to-Know law specifically authorizes the council to consider "the acquisition, sale or lease of real property " and "pending claims and litigation which has been threatened in writing or filed" in private. Tardif contended that the nonpublic session to consider an offer to purchase the Belknap Mill was not authorized because he believed the city would not be able to acquire it. In rejecting Tardif's allegations. Justice Temple noted that he conceded the council entered a nonpublic session for a legitimate purpose.
Finally, Tardif argued that when he requested minutes of the nonpublic sessions from the city clerk, the city manager responded, instead, in violation of the Right-to-Know law. The court ruled that the law simply requires the "public agency or body" to respond to such requests .
The city claimed Tardif's petition was "frivolous" and asked the court, in accordance with the Right-to-Know law, which authorizes the court to award fees to a public body "for having to defend against a lawsuit . . . when the court finds that the lawsuit is in bad faith, frivolous, unjust, vexatious, wanton, or oppressive," to award costs. The court denied the request, noting that Tardif "raised several colorable (plausible) claims."