Top stories 2018 | No. 8: NH’s Right to Know Law tested

Top stories 2018 | No. 8: NH’s Right to Know Law tested

In response to a lawsuit from a group of public officials, Rockingham County Superior Court Judge N. William Delker ruled in September that the Coakley Landfill Group is a public body and must follow the Right to Know law.

The suit was brought by state Reps. Mindi Messmer, Renny Cushing, Phil Bean, Mike Edgar, Henry Marsh, as well as Portsmouth Police Commissioner Jim Splaine, and the town of Hampton as an intervenor. The CLG is comprised of municipalities and private entities that used the now-closed landfill in Greenland and Rye and are charged with ongoing remediation of the Superfund site.

Portsmouth City Attorney Robert Sullivan said the city, the largest member of the group, decided not to appeal the court decision and has since met in public twice since. Before the court ruling, Sullivan was chairman of the CLG’s executive committee. Since the ruling, former Portsmouth Mayor Eric Spear was named chairman.

Sullivan said the group previously held monthly meetings by telephone, but since the Right to Know law requires a physical presence of a majority of its members, it is no longer conducting teleconference meetings. He said before the judge’s ruling, no two members of the landfill group could speak by phone, or it would be considered a public meeting. With Spear now serving as chairman, Sullivan said, it is now possible to have “staff-level” phone conversations between members. Sullivan confirmed “staff-level” would include himself.

He said the landfill group will continue to conduct monthly meetings in public, with Spear as chairman.

After the judge’s ruling was announced, Cushing said it was affirmation that “Bob Sullivan can’t wear two hats at any given time. He can’t be city attorney and the head of the CLG. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.”

Cushing called it, “a good day for sunshine in the state of New Hampshire.”

Messmer previously said concern grew about how the landfill might impact public health after former Gov. Maggie Hassan formed a task force to study a “Seacoast pediatric cancer cluster.”

“What we want is to have protections on our drinking water and stop the flow of toxins from this site,” she said. “The public has so much to lose.”

Andrew Gorrill