Published DateTo the editor,
New Hampshire law is clear, every other year the outgoing chair schedules the first meeting of the incoming county delegation. All further meetings are scheduled by the new chairperson. Also, the Executive Committee at its first meeting votes for its chair, vice-chair and clerk.
New Hampshire's AG Memorandum on Right-to-Know law, describes the law and the judicial decisions that further define and explain the peoples' right to know. "Subject to the provisions of RSA 91-A:3, all meetings, whether held in person, by means of telephone or electronic communication, or in any other manner, shall be open to the public. Except for town meetings, school district meetings, and elections, no vote while in open session may be taken by secret ballot." (Page 56)
On December 10, 2012, the first action by Belknap's delegation was to vote to use secret paper ballots. They voted for 2 of 3 officers by paper ballot and, after a "public hearing", using secret paper ballots again voted for four of the seven members of the Executive Committee.
Belknap County's Delegation consists of a 13 - 5 split, Republican to Democrat. The voted was 9 to 7. The public may not have the right to know the mindset of a representative but it does have the right to know how they voted. Clearly, some representative broke from party lines and the public has the right to observe and know who they are. Therefore, not only the official of the convention violated Right-to-Know, but the selection of the Executive Committee in its entirety was done in violation of Right-to-Know.
Accordingly, an unelected, unorganized Executive Committee voted to approve and transfer funds regarding the 2012 budget, and granted the authority to borrow $10 million for the 2013 Fiscal Year. Those actions are void. Clearly, the public hearing regarding the 2013 budget is invalid.
The public should take issue with the use of paper ballots because it erodes transparency in government. If the paper ballots are allowed to be perpetuated, it will open the floodgates for every appointed or elected public body to organize, in open session, using secret paper ballots.
In the matter before the Superior Court, the list of RSA 91-A violations are astronomical, commencing with December 10, 2012:
1. The delegation voted to conduct its organizational election by Secret Paper Ballots, citing no exception of law.
2. The delegation chose its chairperson by Secret Paper Ballots.
3. As the new presiding officer, the chairperson, once again invoked the Paper Ballot process for the selection of the vice-chair. The clerk was selected by casting one vote.
4. The next order of business should have been to select the four members of the convention, to complete the organizational meeting, to the seven member Executive Committee. However, no such action took place at this time.
5. Absent a motion to recess, the convention moved directly to an oral presentation by the Commission, followed by a public hearing on the proposed 2013 county budget.
6. The public hearing cannot be scheduled by the 2012 convention chair. The public hearing can only take place at further meetings, scheduled by the 2013 convention chair, which can only be accomplished after the organizational segment of the meeting has been completed.
7. In any event following the non-compliant "public hearing", the convention voted the four additional members to the seven member Executive Committee.
8. The first meeting of the Executive Committee did take place on December, 21 2012. However, it failed to comply with the law by not conducting its organizational meeting to determine who the chair, vice-chair and clerk would be. The unorganized quorum made decisions which will be void in the event a do-over is ordered, as all seven members were elected in open session by secret paper ballots.
9. At the second convention meeting, on February 4, 2013, the presiding officer conducted a do-over of the election of its Executive Committee. That resulted in three new officers.
10. No sub-committee meetings were NOTICED, and no sub-committee reports are listed on the agenda of February 4. However, with all the confusion of the TAN (Tax Anticipation Note) borrowing, the December 10, 2012 minutes, with a correction to the DRAFT version approved, notes the chair announced the convention's sub-committees minutes approvals would also be taking place. Keep in mind that only a sub-committee can amend or approve its minutes. No notice for any sub-committee meetings exist. The convention did not suspend its meeting for the purpose of convening the committee of the whole. The convention chair called on each of the members of the sub-committee to approve or amend its minutes, and by a show of hand approved or amended those minutes. The decision to approve the minutes of previous meetings by all eight sub-committees took place at these unnoticed meetings. Decisions were clearly made. Was the Right-to-Know RSA 91-A:2, II, violated again, again and AGAIN?.
On February 4, 2013, the Executive Committee voted to approve the Treasurer's request to borrow 10 million dollars. 1. The authority for the Treasurer to come before the Executive Committee, by the commissioners, had not been granted. Therefore, the approval to borrow the money is fatally flawed. Moreover, the Commission only noticed "The board may also be in attendance at the (Executive Committee Meeting of the Delegation)".
Where, in the AG Memorandum of Law does it condone such notices as "may or may not" attend another bodies meeting or excuse a quorum's attendance by invitation of another bodies meeting? The Right-to-Know law is clear; a meeting must be noticed 24 hours in advance. Clearly, intent to circumvent the Right-to-Know will not bode well with the court.
In any event, the Commission did not achieve a quorum at 4:30 p.m.. However, after the Executive Committee's action, a quorum of the commissioners did gather and, in an attempt to comply with borrowing requirements, the commissioners voted to authorize the Treasurer to approach the Executive Committee. However, the Executive Committee has not taken the required vote to allow the treasurer to borrow. (RSA 29:8)
Belknap County Convention has no rules of order for conducting business, the result of which are the multiple violation of RSA 91-A and causation for the fatal flaws regarding RSA-24. The blatant vote to hold its selection of officers by secret paper ballot, then voting its chairperson using secret paper ballot in open session, deprived the public of knowing who voted for whom erodes any resemblance of transparency.
Thomas A. Tardif