Access to Public meeting


Access to Public Meeting Denied - Nov 2021 Brentwood Newsletter Article

Part 1 Article 8 of the NH Constitution reads:

All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted. The public also has a right to an orderly, lawful, and accountable government. Therefore, any individual taxpayer eligible to vote in the State, shall have standing to petition the Superior Court to declare whether the State or political subdivision in which the taxpayer resides has spent, or has approved spending, public funds in violation of a law, ordinance, or constitutional provision. In such a case, the taxpayer shall not have to demonstrate that his or her personal rights were impaired or prejudiced beyond his or her status as a taxpayer. However, this right shall not apply when the challenged governmental action is the subject of a judicial or administrative decision from which there is a right of appeal by statute or otherwise by the parties to that proceeding.

On Oct 13th, I went to Concord as there was a Commerce Subcommittee meeting which was working on an amendment to my bill HB 207 which tries to work to eliminate the requirement for Home Movers to prove “public convenience and necessity will be served by such operation” before they can get a license in NH. After, I went over to where the Executive Council was meeting as the meeting was still going. When I arrived around noon, the State Police indicated that they were not currently letting anyone into the public meeting. I inquired if the building was at capacity or if they were in the middle of a topic and didn’t want disturbances in the middle of topics and the officer indicated they didn’t know and indicated there was a line to get in the building which I could wait as they said they could be letting people enter in as little as five minutes, however the plan and why was not clear to the officer. At the time of my arrival, the Executive Council was about 20 minutes into discussing the controversial $27 million dollar federal grant, so while unusual, the refusal of admittance was nothing to be alarmed at, so I chose to wait as the officer instructed.

When the Executive Council decided to not accept the grant, many people left the meeting as, apparently that is all they were in attendance for, so I approached the officer again to ask if now that people were leaving and the topic was over would they would let me into the meeting and they still said, “no.” That was a very concerning development as the room was no longer full and the meeting is supposed to be open to the public. There were many other topics on the agenda including nominations of people to government positions which went on for another 1-2 hours, during which time no one was allowed admittance and the only public in attendance were people that arrived some time before I arrived.

After the meeting adjourned, I asked again to gain admittance as I wanted to speak to any of the Executive Counselor’s about the highly unusual situation of not being admitted to a public meeting, but the State Police denied admittance even at that point.

I believe that the barring of the doors to a public meeting for hours is contrary to the requirements of law and the NH Constitution and I have since brought those concerns to the attention of the Attorney General and the members of the Executive Council. Since some of the things taken up after the doors were barred were authorizing expenditures so it is possible to under Article 8 for me to request that Superior Court rule if they approved spending contrary to the requirements of Article 8, and I am considering that option depending on the response from the Attorney General and the members of the Executive Council since trying times like that meeting are when those constitutional protections are most important.