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New policy set for Wolfeboro town files being out of the office

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
June 26, 2014
WOLFEBORO — Selectmen Chair Linda Murray said at the June 18 selectmen's meeting that the town received a complaint from a resident trying to inspect files from the Zoning Board of Adjustment and was unable to access them because they were out of the office with the ZBA secretary. "Having a town file at a secretary's office for five days is unacceptable," she said.

Murray cited RSA 91-A:4, particularly section III: "Each public body or agency shall keep and maintain all governmental records in its custody at its regular office or place of business in an accessible place…" She inquired of Town Planner Rob Houseman about the missing files and was told that it was customary for ZBA Administrative Assistant Robin Kingston to pick up the case files the morning of the meeting and return them when the minutes are completed.

Houseman passed the question along to Laura Spector-Morgan, legal counsel for the ZBA, who said that the law does not preclude authorized people from taking files out of the office. RSA 91-A:4 (IV) also gives a town five business days to provide files for copying.

Murray proposed a new policy for the town that states that files must be available at town offices during regular business hours. The town manager may allow exceptions under special circumstances.

Selectman Sarah Silk provided a complete copy of RSA 91-A and said she saw no reason why original documents have to leave the premises at all. They can be copied and the copies taken off premises, she said.

Selectman Dave Senecal, who has been a ZBA member and is a current alternate, said the new policy was OK with him. "This is not a recent problem," he said, "and is not limited to the ZBA. It has happened with the Planning Board and [the former] Historic District Commission as well."

Town Manager Dave Owen handed out a copy of RSA 41:61, which he said leaves little leeway for allowing documents out of two offices: "No town officer having the custody of its public records or documents shall loan the same or permit them to be taken from the place where they are usually kept except when necessary for the discharge of official duty or upon the summons of a court of competent authority; and they shall be open at all proper times for public inspection and examination."

Selectmen Dave Bowers and Brad Harriman said they were in favor of the new policy. Silk was also in favor but wanted to check with town counsel on giving the authority to make exceptions.

The new policy was adopted unanimously as proposed.

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