By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – State Sen. Dan Feltes said the response he received on his right-to-know request shows Gov. Chris Sununu lied about his role in the ouster of Fish and Game Director Glenn Normandeau, which Sununu’s spokesman criticized as a “political stunt.”
Feltes, D-Concord, who is running in the primary for Sununu’s job, said the newly released records directly contradict Sununu’s statements that the decision was the Fish and Game Commission’s and that he played absolutely no role in it.
“We don’t know why, but it is now clear Governor Sununu lied when he said he had no involvement in the ousting of the New Hampshire’s Fish & Game Director,” Feltes said Friday in a news release.
Sununu spokesman Brandon Pratt said: “The accusations are completely without merit and are nothing more than a desperate political stunt for attention.”
In addition to the released records, “certain responsive government records are exempt from disclosure under RSA 91-A and/or are subject to protection pursuant to executive privilege,” according to Christopher G. Aslin, senior assistant attorney general in the Environmental Division.
Feltes said the released records included an email notifying the Commissioners that Sununu would like to meet with them privately on Sept. 11 and the cover letter said additional communication between representatives of the governor’s office and Commission Chairman Robert Phillipson are subject to executive privilege and “exempt from disclosure.”
“The private meeting with the Fish and Game Commissioners and the additional communication demonstrates that Governor Sununu was directly involved in the ousting of the Fish & Game Director. The Chair of the Fish & Game Commission, Commissioner Phillipson, also recently said in a news report that ‘the commissioners kept quiet about the secret vote at the governor’s request,’” Feltes said.
The commission voted in executive session at its September meeting not to reappoint Normandeau for another four-year term and sealed the minutes.
Feltes and InDepthNH.org filed right-to-know requests to get the records behind the decision, some of which were just released. Normandeau’s term ends in March 2020.
Pratt, Sununu’s deputy director of communications, said the governor citing executive privilege in withholding documents is nothing new.
“Consistent with past Governor’s Offices, our Office has a policy of asserting Executive Privilege for all working communications with Executive Branch agencies,” Pratt said in an email.
Pratt did confirm “that the two documents in question were email communications exchanged for the purpose of verifying the accuracy of draft public statements.”
Black’s Law Dictionary defines executive privilege as a “Constitutional right to not disclose information, given to the government’s executive branch.”
Responding to the right-to-know requests, Aslin related the following:
“Specifically, the minutes of the Commission’s non-public meeting held on September 11, 2019 are exempt from disclosure pursuant to RSA 91-A:3, III. The Commission voted to seal the non-public meeting minutes on the basis that disclosure would adversely affect the reputation of a person other than a member of the Commission.”
“The minutes of the non-public meeting are also exempt from disclosure as they relate to personnel matters and are covered by the Governor’s executive privilege,” Aslin wrote.
“In addition, two communications between representatives of the Governor’s office and Commissioner Phillipson are subject to the Governor’s executive privilege and, therefore, exempt from disclosure,” he added.
See documents released to Sen. Feltes and InDepthNH.org here. http://indepthnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Responsive_Documents.pdf
See letter to reporter Paula Tracy here. http://indepthnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Letter-to-Paula-Tracy.pdf
The Attorney General’s Office did release a set of emails from Fish and Game’s administrative assistant to the commissioners, including one that said the governor wanted to meet with them to discuss Normandeau’s tenure on Sept. 11 and to “please keep this to yourselves at this time.”
The release also included a Sept. 3 memo from Normandeau to the Commission outlining his hopes that they would consider him for a fourth term. It noted a meeting Normandeau said he had in July with the governor to go over his reasons for wanting reappointment.
In the memo, Normandeau said he has “a lot of irons in the fire” including the rebuilding of Downing’s Landing on Lake Winnipesaukee, the upgrading of the fish hatcheries to meet federal water quality standards and the renovation of Emery Farm.
The memo said he was also in line to become president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, a 117-year-old institution, which would be a personal honor and allow New Hampshire a voice in the nation’s conservation issues.
He said he is 62 years old and “would like to retire from here rather than taking on something new” and that losing health-care right now “would be very tough” on him and his wife.
“Finally as most of you know my wife has been ill and will need treatment for the foreseeable future. It is only fair to mention that loss of our health insurance coverage would be very tough on us,” Normandeau wrote.
Normandeau concludes with a request to talk with commissioners if they have any concerns, which is something Normandeau later said they did not do.
“I hope if you have any concerns about my request you will contact me and discuss them,” he wrote, eight days before they met with the governor to discuss his tenure.
An Oct. 11 document said that Chairman Phillipson wanted the commission to read two articles on the subject of Normandeau’s tenure.
One said that he was upset with how the commission handled the matter and another saying that state Sen. Dan Feltes, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, was seeking release of the documents under the right-to-know law, along with InDepthNH.org.
At the Oct. 9 meeting of the Fish and Game Commission in Holderness at the Owl Brook Hunter Education Center, Normandeau accused the commission of not having the decency to let him know they had voted in secret to let him go and that he had to hear of their decision from the governor.
Phillipson said the governor had asked them not to talk with Normandeau about the decision until it was “done.”
On Oct. 10, Sununu said the call was made by the commission, not him.
“Glenn and I have maintained a great relationship for the last nine years, and I conveyed that to the Fish and Game Commission when they met to discuss Glenn’s reappointment. It was conveyed to me following our meeting that the Commission unilaterally decided to go in a different direction, as laid out in statute, and we must respect their process. I wish Glenn nothing but the best and know he’ll bring the same energy and passion to his next endeavor that he did to the State of New Hampshire,” Sununu said.
Feltes filed the right-to-know request saying Sununu was not being straightforward and there were things going on behind closed doors that the public should know about.
Feltes said Friday: “Public trust in Government is at all-time lows because people don’t believe they can trust their elected officials. Whether it’s responses to right to know requests, statements to the press, or financial disclosures, public officials must be transparent and be held to a higher standard.”
Feltes has also released 10 years of his tax returns and called on Sununu and any other candidate for governor to do the same.