Guest editorial from Right To Know NH
By Harriet E. Cady
I am writing this in response to Sunshine Week in New Hampshire and the country. As we have just had town and school meetings in the majority of towns I am well aware of information withheld from the voters.
As a citizen who has won some and lost some right-to-know cases, my skin had to thicken because of the personal attacks you take in order to make the public officials obey the law. The oath they take appears to mean nothing to many elected officials but rather their idea of what is right or even what they think is right taking precedence over citizen’s rights or the laws.
In 1974 I took my school board to court for violating the right-to-know law because they refused to give my learning disabled son an IEP behind closed doors. I was shaking in my high heels to think I was having to talk with and answer the judge’s questions, refute the school’s attorney, who I must say wasn’t able to do much against the minutes they kept which proved my case. Just had to have the judge review their non public minutes and show the letter they had the superintendent send to me.
But now for the most heart-breaking part, the public officials who have with a vengeance attack any citizen who dares to take them to court for violating their oath. The lies they tell the community about you as a person and how you have “cost” the town’s taxpayers so much in legal fees and most citizens don’t even ask officials the question “if you obeyed the law would the citizen have taken you to court?”
Although RSA 91-A protects citizens’ right to know it is left to the citizen and newspapers to enforce the law. There is nothing to stop the lies the leadership in the community will tell people what a bad person you are and since they are elected leaders, most often they are believed without question.
So what do we do? Are we the only ones to enforce the law? Do we let them violate it until something really bad happens? How about a person who commits suicide after being made to look horrible for asking questions of the officials at their meetings? Is the loss of his life enough?
Unfortunately I don’t have an answer for how many people have suffered the tales told by elected officials who don’t like being sued under the right-to-know Law. However, I do know the people who avoid me for daring to enforce my rights and who have listened to false tales about how I have cost the taxpayers $500,000. Actual costs have been nearer $50,000 for the lawyer who defended the town in the six cases of which I won four.
Not once have I heard anyone say back, “Well if they broke the law how could she make them obey the law other than going to court?” Will we ever get an attorney general who can enforce our right to know when a citizen brings proof of violations? Why does the attorney general’s office have a division of Public Integrity if not to make elected officials obey the state’s statutes?
Once again, a business owner who dared to post the truth about our right to know has seen retaliation by people stating others shouldn’t do business with her. So even though 40 years ago the Office of Civil Rights found the school violated my son’s educational rights, and the court found they violated the right-to-know law, officials are still not obeying the right-to-know law and the person who stood up for her rights has become a victim with attacks on her business.
Guess that will fix us who dare to question those who ask to be elected by us so they can serve and who take an oath to uphold the laws of the state of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire and US Constitution. First, we must pay the taxes for the lawyer to defend them and then take the communities condemnation for daring to make an elected official do that which they took an oath to do. How dare we ask them to obey the law and adhere to what they swore to do.
Harriet Cady is a founding member of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Deerfield. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org