Janik v. SAU 21, Doc. No. 218-1999-E-390 (Rockingham Super. Ct., October 1, 1999) (McHugh, J.)

Pages: 1 2 3 4








No. 96-E-0203


On July 2, 1999 the plaintiff filed a Petition for Equitable Relief against the defendants. In the Petition he alleges that he is a taxpayer in the Town of Hampton Falls who attended a joint board SAU No. 21 meeting on or about May 27, 1999. He alleges that at that meeting the board members received a "draft" of a Shared Services Report. No members of the public who attended that hearing were given a copy of the report.

On June 2, 1999 the plaintiff wrote a letter to the defendant requesting a copy of this report. His letter was responded to by the Superintendent of Schools on June 7, 1999. The Superintendent opined that because the report was in draft form it was not available to members of the public. The plaintiff then turned to the Court for a resolution of this dispute.

[2] A hearing was held in this matter on September 29, 1999. All parties appeared either in person or through counsel. As justification for its decision not to share the report with the plaintiff in May or June, the defendant referenced a policy set by the Attorney General wherein he determined that draft reports were not public records under the right-to-know law.

At the time of the hearing on this matter, the plaintiff conceded that he did receive a complete copy of the report sometime in August. Apparently there were no substantive changes made in the report from the time it was initially distributed to board members back in May until the time it was made available to members of the public in August. The plaintiff also concedes that no formal action has as yet been taken by the various school boards in the district with respect to the recommendations contained in the report. Still, the plaintiff argues that he should have received the report back in May at the same time that it was distributed to board members. The plaintiff also points out that at the time it was distributed certain school principals received copies of the report and they are not school board members.

[3] There is no question but that the subject matter of the report is of interest to the various taxpayers in the towns comprising this particular school district. There is also no question but that the report should be shared with the public before any formal action is taken by the SAU on the issues which the report addresses. It would also seem that there should be a reasonable opportunity for members of the public to examine the report before a formal vote is taken and therefore the report should be made available to the public sometime prior to the actual meeting wherein the subject matter is to be voted upon.

On the other hand, the Court is sensitive to the need of SAU board members to be free to share their ideas without having to defend them prior to any formal report being discussed in public session. Thus the Court determines that preliminary drafts of reports are not in fact public documents. That being the case, the Court finds and rules that the plaintiff did not have the right to see the draft report when it was initially distributed to board members back in May. The Court further finds that it was appropriate for board members to give the report to affected school officials back in May or June even though they were [4] not board nembers.

There is no violation of the right-to-know law in this case; nor has there been a violation of due process because the report was made available to members of the public for a reasonable period of time before it was the subject of any formal vote. Accordingly, the plaintiff's Petition for Equitable Relief is DENIED.


DATE: October 1, 1999    /s/   

Kenneth R. McHugh

Presiding Justice