Published DateBy Daymond Steer
OSSIPEE – The Carroll County commission chair is being sued by a reporter from the Carroll County Independent and a Brookfield man who films commission meetings.
The pair, consisting of Mellisa Seamans of the Carroll County Independent and Ed Comeau of Governmentoversite.com, filed their petition against commission chair David Sorensen in Carroll County Superior Court on Wednesday afternoon.
"The county commissioner's deliberate failure to provide access to public records is a violation of the Right to Know Law and has unfairly denied our rights," states the suit.
The suit explains that on April 17, Seamans filed several information requests under the New Hampshire Right to Know Law. On April 18, the commission replied it would need more time to fulfill the requests, according to the suit. Since then, Seamans has asked for status updates on May 1 and May 15.
At the May 15 commission meeting, Sorensen told Seamans that commissioner Asha Kenney is working on her Right to Know requests. Kenney was absent on May 15. Commissioners said Kenney only gave them a couple of minutes notice that she would not be at the meeting.
"A lot of that has to be put together," said Sorensen about Seamans' requests. "You were notified that it was being worked on."
Sorensen added that the county already fulfilled two of the requests that Seamans made in April. He also promised to speak with the secretaries in the business office about what could be provided immediately.
The Conway Daily Sun has not sought the information requested by Seamans and Comeau. The Sun has made Right to Know requests about grievances filed by county employees and has been denied by commissioners and the county's human resources department.
The information that Seamans and Comeau requested in their lawsuit involves: the number of county employees out on paid and unpaid leave as of April 15, the number of county employees on the family medical leave act as of April 15, a copy of the county's contract with a company called Kronos, a copy of all financial policies and procedures, a copy of Primex's safety survey discussed at an April commission meeting, a chance to view all jail-related files stored at the administration building and a chance to view documents regarding an insurance claim for the jail's HVAC system.
"An open government doesn't just happen, the people must take control and force the doors open," Comeau told the Sun. "Our 91-A law provides 'The People' the ability to hold the government accountable. The consistent pattern of not responding to 91-A requests will stop today. This petition of the Carroll County Superior Court asking for relief shall put elected officials on notice that 'The People' will no longer tolerate a flippant attitude toward information being requested to investigate our government at all levels."
Seamans said the purpose of the request was to gather "background" information so that she and other county commission meeting attendees could be more informed about the topics being discussed. She said all the information should be open to the public. Seamans feels like the commission is ignoring her requests. She said the commission always says it needs more time but never gives a definitive date for when they expect to be able to provide the information. Seamans said she has more success getting information from other local governmental organizations.
"I never had a problem obtaining public information in a timely manner until trying to do it through the county commissioners," said Seamans.
The two are scheduled to have a hearing on their suit in June.