Cady v. Town of Deerfield, Doc. No. 218-2001-E-498 (Rockingham Super. Ct., December 4, 2001) (Lewis, J.)

Pages: 1 2 3 4




Harriet E. Cady


Town of Deerfield



Before the Court is Harriet Cady's ("Cady") petition pursuant to the Right to Know Law, RSA 91-A. In her petition, Cady advances several claims, naming the Town of Deerfield ("Town"), its Selectmen ("Selectmen") and other Town officials or employees. At the hearing held on November 9, 2001, the parties presented to the Court a Settlement Agreement dated November 8, 2001. The parties represented that the Settlement Agreement resolved all issues presented except whether RSA 91-A precludes the Selectmen from meeting with the Town Tax Assessor ("Assessor") in a nonpublic session to discuss abatement claims made in writing to the Selectmen.

Cady claims that the Selectmen held an improper nonpublic session with Assessor, Gary Roberage ("Roberage"), to discuss certain applications for tax abatements. The Court finds and rules that any such nonpublic meetings do not violate RSA 91-A:3. Accordingly, Cady's petition is DENIED.

New Hampshire's Right-to-Know Law, RSA 91-A, was enacted with the statutory and constitutional objectives of facilitating public access to all public documents and meetings. RSA 91-A:1 (2001); see also Union Leader Corp. v. New Hampshire Hous. Fin. Auth., 142 N.H. 540 (1997). However, while generally construed broadly, this [2] statute does not provide for unrestricted access to public records. See Union Leader Corp., 142 N.H. at 546.

The statute authorizes the Deerfield Selectmen to hold a nonpublic session when there is "consideration or negotiation of pending claims or litigation which has been threatened in writing or filed against the body or agency or any subdivision thereof . . . ." RSA 91-A:3, II(e) (2000) (emphasis added). The statute is not limited, as Cady suggests, to nonpublic sessions held in consideration of "litigation"; it expressly includes the right to hold a nonpublic session in consideration or discussion of "pending claims."

In this case, the Court finds that a tax abatement claim is a "pending claim" within the meaning of RSA 91-A:3, II(e). A "pending claim" must be "filed against the body or agency or any subdivision thereof." Id. A tax abatement claim is made in writing and filed with the Town. An "aggrieved" claimant files such a claim for his or her alleged over-taxation by the Town. See RSA 76:16 (Supp. 2001). The Selectmen are required to make a decision on the tax abatement claim, which the claimant has a right to appeal to the Board of Tax and Land Appeals or the Superior Court. See RSA 76:16, 76:16-a, 76:17 (Supp. 2001). Clearly, a claim for a tax abatement is a "pending claim" before the Selectmen in the Town of Deerfield. Accordingly, the Selectmen's consideration of "pending claims" for tax abatements in this case is a legitimate reason to hold a nonpublic session. See id.

Moreover, the Court notes that as to the specifically [3] referenced May 1, 2001 meeting, the Selectmen properly voted to hold a nonpublic session with Roberage to discuss tax abatements. (Town of Deerfield Board of Selectmen, May 1, 2001 Minutes (hereinafter "Town Minutes".) Furthermore, the Court finds that the Selectmen properly invited the Town Tax Assessor, Roberage, to the nonpublic meeting considering tax abatements. As the Town Assessor, Roberage is an appropriate and crucial party to any discussion concerning tax abatements.

In addition, as a matter of policy, the Court finds that it is important for Town Selectmen to be able to meet with their assessor in nonpublic sessions when necessary upon consideration of tax abatements. The Town explains that without such nonpublic sessions, it would not be able to have the frank discussions that are often necessary here. In fact, the Selectmen effectively would not be able to discuss with the assessor the strengths and weaknesses of their position without nonpublic sessions. By revealing any perceived weaknesses, the Town could be sacrificing positions on appeal. Accordingly, the Selectmen's nonpublic meeting with Roberage to discuss pending tax abatement claims was proper.

In conclusion, Cady's petition is DENIED as to the issue of whether the Selectmen properly held a nonpublic session with Roberage to discuss certain tax abatement claims. Furthermore, the parties' Settlement Agreement of November 8, 2001 resolves all other issues and claims.

[4] So, ORDERED.

   12/4/01       /s/   


Presiding Justice