Littleton Police using high costs to avoid Right To Know Law

By Grant Bosse on November 28, 2011
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The Union Leader’s Bob Hookway reports on a Right To Know case that may end up at the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Littleton pizza shop owner Demetrios “Jim” Sourgiadakis alleges he was one of 13 merchants police officers and their union targeted for boycott last spring in a dispute over the proposed annual town budget.

Sourgiadakis, owner of Gold House of Pizza, sued the town, seeking records of communications between police and the union, the New Hampshire State Employees Association.

In September, Grafton County Superior Court Judge Peter H. Bornstein declared most of the 107 pages of documents the plaintiffs sought are exempt from the right-to-know law because they contained personnel information.

This month, responding to the restaurant owner’s request for additional records, Bornstein said Sourgiadakis would have to assume the cost — estimated at more than $4,100 — to have a private company search police department computers for those documents.

That decision has prompted Sourgiadakis and his attorney, John Clifford of Hanover, to start preparing a Supreme Court appeal.

Public officials who don’t want to comply with New Hampshire very broad Right To Know Law have a way around it. By maintaining public records co-mingled with non-public information, they can drive up the costs of meeting Right To Know requests. Despite clear instructions from the New Hampshire Supreme Court that public bodies have an obligation to maintain records in a manner that makes them subject to public scrutiny, far too many state and local agencies fail to meet those standards. If the Littleton Police Department is allowed to shield itself from the public’s Right To Know simply by mismanaging its own records, and passing the compliance costs onto local businesses, it will have succeeded in greatly weakening New Hampshire’s Right To Know Law.

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