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Court got secret meeting ruling wrong

Last modified: 5/20/2012 12:00:00 AM
Re 'LGC may stay mum under law' (Monitor front page, May 12): Recently the state Supreme Court essentially said a government body may keep minutes of meetings secret if there are no members of the public attending the meeting in question. Really? How out of touch with the reality of the purpose of the Right To Know law are these people?

The reason that minutes of meetings of city councils, boards of selectmen and other public bodies need to be available for public review is the fact that the public has a right to know what happened at these meetings without having an obligation to attend the meeting.

If public bodies can now conduct business when the public is not present and not have to keep accurate and publicly available minutes then the public's business is being conducted in private. Any public body need only to schedule meetings at a time inconvenient for the public to be present and do what it wants without worry of public scrutiny.

Our courts have the ultimate responsibility to protect the public, to make sure public money is spent correctly, to assure the public's business is open to public review and to assure that public officials understand that they have an obligation to keep accurate minutes and to do the public's business in the open. Nothing in the Right To Know law requires that a member of the public be present in order for those things to be assured.

The law is specific and limited as to when public business can be held secret. This ruling now allows anything done at a public meeting to be kept secret as long as no member of the public is present.

The court should reconsider this terrible decision. If a public official speaks at a meeting where no member of the public is present, he or she makes a sound and in that case it needs to be recorded. A tree can fall in the forest with no one hearing it and do no harm. Not so when the public does not hear its government.

(Rick Newman lives in Nottingham.)


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