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Emergency Fire Commissioners meeting prompts concerns about transparency

April 18, 2012
TILTON — The Tilton-Northfield Fire Commissioners met for an emergency meeting on April 11 to discuss a Right to Know request which was made by Tilton resident Jane Alden on April 3.

Under RSA 91-A, a citizen may ask to obtain copies of unsealed minutes of any meetings, along with any written correspondence between members of a public board, committee or commission. The request must be responded to within 72 hours.

Alden's written request asked for copies of any and all minutes, meeting notes, and all correspondence between the Fire Commission, dating back to Oct. 1, 2011.

As the commission began their unscheduled meeting last week, Chairman Pat Clark immediately asked to go into a non-public session to discuss some of the documents he brought along per Alden's request. He said he had sought advice through the Local Government Center in Concord, and felt the board should sit down in nonpublic to review their documents and make certain everything being provided was indeed suitable for public scrutiny. Clark said he had a few documents which he felt might not be appropriate to release to the public.

Over the past several months, the commission has held numerous discussions concerning Fire Chief Brad Ober's residency, and what residency requirements the commission felt would be proper to impose on him as terms of his employment.

Ober had a previously scheduled training session, and was not in attendance last Wednesday evening to take part in any nonpublic discussion concerning him, so Commissioner Tom Gallant asked what was contained in Clark's documents.

"Does it have to do with Brad? He has a right to be here," Gallant said.

He reminded Clark that the chief has requested all discussions about his residency take place in public.

Glancing at the documents Clark was questioning, Gallant added, "I don't think he's going to object to this. He's going to want it public, and I think he's going to be real happy you're submitting that."

Clark, however, felt it appropriate to hold onto the documents until he could meet with Ober and confirm that decision.

While Gallant also brought his meeting notes and communications to turn over to Alden, Commissioner Paul Auger did not. Auger does not have a computer, and said he had nothing to submit. Gallant said his handwritten notes and any items mailed to him from the fire district would need to be made available.

Alden, who was in attendance, asked when Auger could provide her with the information requested, and he replied that he would try to have it ready by Friday, April 13.

In view of the fact that much of the documentation requested by Alden was not readily available that evening, Clark made a motion to end the meeting, but resident Judy Tilton asked to speak before the three adjourned.

"When can we expect some transparency? I think there's multiple agendas here, and as a taxpayer, I'm concerned," Tilton said.

She asked who oversaw the commission so she could discuss her concerns with them, and Gallant suggested she speak with the Secretary of State's office.

"Ask them the question, and I'm sure you'll get pointed in the right direction," he said.

Others seeking copies of documents which were available that evening were denied, as Clark said it was Alden who had made the only formal Right to Know request with the commission.

Shortly before the Echo's deadline Tuesday, Alden said she did receive the notes and correspondence she had filed for from all but Auger, who only turned over a few copies of emails that were printed and mailed to him. He did not submit any of his handwritten notes from meetings conducted over the past six months.

Martin Lord & Osman
Brewster Academy
Varney Smith
Brewster Academy
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