By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Two former state senators with little in common politically before former Republican state Rep. Troy Merner was caught serving in the House after moving out of his district are teaming up to find out who knew what and when they knew it about Merner’s many months of deceit.
Former Democratic state Senator Peter Hoe Burling of Cornish contacted former state Senator Mark Hounsell of Conway, a Republican, on Tuesday after reading Hounsell’s concerns about Merner that mirrored his own, published at InDepthNH.org.
Burling asked Hounsell to sign on to his response Tuesday to the attorney general’s second denial of his right-to-know request seeking all communication about Merner between the Attorney General’s Office and Republican House Speaker Sherman Packard’s office.
“I did not know Peter as much as I knew about him. I was there before he was,” Hounsell said about serving in the senate. “I can’t recall ever agreeing with him on any issue. But on this one I sure do.
“I am honored to be joined with him on this non-partisan matter,” Hounsell said.
Burling had limited his right-to-know request to from March 22 when the attorney general received a credible complaint that Merner had moved until Sept. 18 when the attorney general sent a letter notifying Packard that Merner was in violation of the state Constitution as a result, and under criminal investigation for wrongful voting and accepting mileage payments. The investigation showed Merner moved out of Lancaster on Aug. 26, 2022, before he was re-elected in November of 2022.
Merner has repeatedly declined to comment to InDepthNH.org. Packard asked Merner to resign immediately after receiving the attorney general’s letter, which he did.
Burling and Hounsell both raised questions about how Merner could resign from a House seat he wasn’t legally entitled to. The state Constitution is clear that House members must live in the district they serve.
Burling and Hounsell both want to know if anyone else in the House leadership knew Merner was living out of district and possibly urged him to continue because the Republican party needed his vote in the closely divided House.
Burling’s second right-to know request sought communication of the information contained in the attorney general’s Sept. 18 letter which were directed to Speaker Packard, Majority Leader Jason Osborne, Deputy Speaker Steven Smith, Rep. Laurie Sanborn, and Rep. Robert Lynn, all Republicans.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Conley has insisted that the information Burling sought wouldn’t be released because of the ongoing criminal investigation of Merner.
Conley also raised the possibility that details of the investigation won’t be released because it would be an invasion of privacy.
Private individuals, whether they are suspects or witnesses, have a strong interest in not being associated unwarrantedly with alleged criminal activity, Conley told Burling in his denial letter Oct. 31.
“…Public policy requires that individuals may furnish investigative information to the government with complete candor and without the understandable tendency to hedge or withhold information out of fear that their names and the information they provide will later be open to the public.
“Accordingly, disclosure of communications between this Office and any representative or staff member would reasonably be expected to constitute an invasion of privacy,” Conley wrote.
Burling said he wants an explanation of the gap between receiving the complaint and alerting the Speaker of Merner’s move out of district.
“We want to know how they can explain the gap between March 22 when they received a complaint and Sept. 18 when they gave notice to the Speaker’s office.
“The more we look at it, the less comprehensible it is unless it is just a barefaced coverup,” Burling said.
If it is necessary to file a lawsuit in Superior Court to get the records he requested Burling said that is “absolutely” a possibility. Chichester attorney Paul Twomey is advising him, he said.
“I seek to learn when a limited number of public officials first learned from your office about this fraud on the voters,” Burling told Conley in his response Tuesday.
He said the public has the right to know whether the Department of Justice provided this information in a timely manner to “prevent what was an ongoing fraud upon the people of the state.”
“No public official has the right to avoid accountability for their actions, especially when the failure to act in a timely manner may have led to the ongoing commission of a crime against the people,” Burling wrote.
“I urge you to rethink the reasons for denying my requests. Should you decline to do so I will seek judicial review of your failure to comply with the terms of the right-to-know statute and Part One Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution,” Burling said.
Attorney General John Formella’s spokesman has repeatedly said no further information will be released during the ongoing criminal investigation.