This week on Manch Talk, I am joined by Right-to-Know open government activist, Laurie Ortolano from Nashua. Laurie takes us through an in-depth look at her case to make sure Nashua City Hall and the tax assessors office are functioning properly in an open, accessible, accountable and responsive way. (Psst: Guess what? They’re not, and she and other activists have been arrested to prove it!) (Double psst: What do you call it when the Mayor in a town gets special tax treatment?)
Small NH Town Gets Sued Under Right-to-Know For Refusing to Tell Townsfolk How Much They Are Paying Themselves
Vicky Ayer of Gillsum is fighting back! She is a member of Right-to-Know NH, a nonpartisan group of concerned open government advocates. See links below to get involved.
From today’s Union Leader:
“Gilsum is a town of about 800 people with an annual operating budget of about $600,000, but according to resident Vicky Ayer, a good portion of that budget is shrouded in mystery.
‘We have no clue where some of our money goes,’ Ayer said.
The town spends about $200,000 a year in salaries, and another $80,000 for employee health insurance. Ayer has been trying for years to get the board to include details on the expenditures in the annual town report to no avail. The money spent is taxpayer money, and ought to be public, she said.
‘We don’t know who gets what and where it goes,’ Ayer said.
For example, Ayer said the town refuses to disclose how much it pays to the part-time administrative assistant, Robin Cantara, Cantara’s assistant, or the new assistant who also joined the town this year.
‘We have 826 people in town. We don’t need three assistants,’ Ayer said.
Cantara did not answer the phone listed on the town website on Tuesday. Cantara is also the town’s clerk and tax collector.
Selectmen have claimed they legally do not have to disclose the salary information for town employees under the state’s Right-to-Know Law, according to Ayer’s lawsuit. That’s in contradiction with the Attorney General’s most recent memoranda on the Right-to-Know Law, which clearly lists salary for public employees as a public matter. Ayer claims she was told by selectmen they had a legal opinion advising them not to disclose the information in the town’s annual report.
Ayer filed a Right-to-Know lawsuit against the town seeking to get a copy of that opinion along with other information. The town’s attorney, Gary Kinyon, argues in court documents that selectmen do not have to hand over any opinion received from town counsel. Kinyon did not respond to a request for comment. Select Board Chair Timothy May could not be reached.
Ayer said Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff is now giving board members 10 days to come up with the legal opinion they claim allows them not to disclose all of the town’s finances.
‘It will be interesting to see what they produce,’ Ayer said.”
Learn more about Right-to-Know NH. We meet on the third Saturday of every month, and welcome new members to join our ranks. Get involved!
Interested in filing your own RTK request? It’s surprisingly easy! Follow this handy guide!
Retaliatory Arrest for Nashua Right-to-Know Activist, and Is Twelve Feet Enough, Or Will They Need the Actual Mile? (Manch Talk 02/23/21)
Due to technical difficulties in the studio, I only have the Facebook Live link for this week’s Manch Talk. Tune in while you still can!