Gold House Pizza owner suing Littleton in case with ties to boycott
Sourgiadakis wants documents related to union's targeting of 13 businesses after budget vote
August 10, 2011LITTLETON – The effect of March's boycott of 12 town businesses continues to reverberate—this time in Superior Court.
Jimmy Sourgiadakis , owner of Gold House Pizza on Main Street, is suing the Town of Littleton in Grafton County Superior Court under the state's Right to Know Law.
Sourgiadakis is seeking the release of documents pertaining to the State Employees' Association's (SEA) boycott, which was approved March 10, a few days after residents voted for a $745,000 budget reduction.
He alleges that members of the Littleton Police Department orchestrated the boycott and used town property to do so. The lawsuit also claims that the SEA threatened litigation if the town attempted to disclose documents related to the boycott.
The crux of the complaint is that the town's refusal to "produce the requested records concerning the boycott has had a chilling affect of Sourgiadakis 1st Amendment guarantees under the Constitution of the United States and under Article 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution."
"We want the documents that relate to the boycott, pure and simple," said his attorney, John Clifford.
Several business owners were vocal in supporting the cuts leading up to the vote, and fliers reflecting those views had been circulated. Lahout's Apartments and Porfido's Rentals both sent letters to their tenants requesting that they vote for the article in order to keep property taxes low.
In SEA's March 18 newsletter, the organization cited the fliers and criticized the role local businesses played in passing the budget amendment. It would "likely require the town's police, fire and highway departments to lay off a significant number of their employees."
"The costs that they [the businesses] complain about are the price of public safety and the preservation of human life and property; the SEA does not believe those things are for sale. Pursuing profits in lieu of these critical public serves is recklessly dangerous," said SEA President Diana Lacey in the newsletter.
Thirteen businesses were targeted by the boycott: Porfido's Market and Deli, Lahout's Apartment and Mini Storage, Gold House Pizza and Greek Restaurant, Hadlock Group Insurance, Arrow Express Lube and Auto Care, Foto Factory, Darrell A. Louis Insurance and Related Services, WLTN 96.7, Brien Ward Attorney at Law, Moore Dam ATV, Chutters, NAPA Auto Parts (Littleton location only), and Frank Grammo Plumbing and Heating Services.
Frank Grammo was dropped from later references to the boycott, but he says he was a vocal supporter of the budget cuts, and most likely just got lost in the shuffle. NAPA Auto Parts also was dropped from the list of businesses to boycott because it had a new owner who had not been involved in the budget uproar.
On March 28, Chief Paul Smith responded to the boycott in a letter sent to Interim Town Manager Fred Moody. He said it was not endorsed by himself or supervisory and administrative staff.
"We recognize that such a boycott erodes public confidence in the department and directly affects the ability for members of the police department to effectively communicate in a positive manner with the citizens that we are sworn to protect and serve," said Smith in the letter.
According to the court documents, Sourgiadakis' issue with the events that transpired has to do with who orchestrated the boycott and how they did it, and he wants access to the town documents that would give him that information.
The complaints states: "On information and belief, the boycott was orchestrated by certain members of the Littleton Police Department, yet unknown, and with the knowledge and approval of Police Chief Paul Smith as well as Detective Michele Soares and perhaps members of the Littleton Selectboard."
It also says that Sourgiadakis believes that some individuals in the police department "utilized Littleton town property, such as computers, phone, email, letters and faces to implement the boycott."
Littleton Police Department Chief Paul Smith declined to comment on the complaint, and directed all questions to Moody.
In early April, Sourgiadakis submitted a right-to-know request to the town. He wanted access to any and all documents that pertained to the boycott and were generated or received by the police department and the SEA during the month of March.
He also requested an independent investigation into the conduct of members of the police department, including a "hate list posting on Facebook, and all other police department or personnel activities initiated to threaten, harass, bully and intimidate the 13 boycotted businesses."
The "hate list" also is mentioned in the court documents and involved Officer Scott Moodie who shared a list online of people and groups that he hated. The list did not specifically give names, but alluded to certain people who were in support of the budget –
Attorney Brien Ward, Sourgiadakis, Art Tighe of Foto Factory, and Steve Kelley formerly of NAPA – ahead of the Taliban.
On Monday, Moody said, "The town did complete the internal investigation that the complainant asked for, and appropriate action has been taken as a result of the investigation at the police department."
However, in response to Sourgiadakis request for transparency, the town responded in a letter on April 13 and offered six documents, including Sourgiadakis' own right-to-know request. However, at the end of the letter, Moody said that the town did have additional documents between the SEA and police department that came within the scope of Sourgiadakis request. But, the town was not disclosing them because the "documents are exempt from disclosure under RSA 91-A:5, IV as records pertaining to internal personnel practices, personnel matters, and matters that are confidential."
The Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A:5), is available on the N.H General Court's website and it states: "Records pertaining to internal personnel practices; confidential, commercial, or financial information … and personnel, medical, welfare, library user, videotape sale or rental, and other files whose disclosure would constitute invasion of privacy. Without otherwise compromising the confidentiality of the files, nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit a public body or agency from releasing information relative to health or safety from investigative files on a limited basis to persons whose health or safety may be affected."
Still, Sourgiadakis believes that the town owes him more information, and the complaint also claims that the SEA threatened litigation if the town released what he was looking for.
In a letter to Smith, the organization said, "SEA will regard the disclosure of those union e-mails as at least an invasion of privacy, a violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing inherent in any CBA, and an unfair labor practice. Individuals affected may have other causes of action for such disclosure."
Moody says the lawsuit will likely reveal more details.
"It's likely that as the lawsuit proceeds, more information will become available so Mr. Sourgiadakis will understand why [the town] provided him with the information [it] did under his original right-to-know request," said Moody.
The first hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Aug. 29 at the Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill.