Legal Q & A

Legal Q and A: The Inside Scoop on Nonpublic Sessions

New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law, RSA Chapter 91-A, is a critical statute for local officials and employees to understand. One of the more difficult areas to navigate is nonpublic sessions. Recently, we have received an incredible number of legal inquiries about this subject. Here are some of the most frequently-asked questions about nonpublic sessions.

Q. What’s the difference between a nonpublic session and a “non-meeting”?

Legal Q and A: Hawkers, Peddlers and Door-to-Door Solicitors

Warm weather and extended daylight signal the return of people selling goods and services from temporary locations on public property or by door-to-door solicitation. These people are known by the traditional term “hawkers and peddlers.” Solicitors also include those advocating and/or raising funds for charitable, religious, and political organizations. People often find these activities annoying in public spaces and an invasion of privacy when solicitors ring the doorbell. They complain to municipal officials, who in turn must determine what, if any, action to take.

Legal Q and A: Right to Know Law: Disclosure of ‘Draft’ Documents

A core principle of the Right to Know Law involves the right of citizens to inspect and copy governmental records. Questions often arise about documents and electronic communications that are created as staff and officials study an issue, deliberate about how best to approach the matter, and review and refine language of policies, ordinances, or adjudicative decisions. These documents will likely contain information that is incomplete and language that will ultimately be rejected prior to approval by public bodies.

Legal Q and A: Laws Related to Appointed Officials

Municipal government in New Hampshire requires dedicated volunteers to fill the list of important appointed offices. The duties of these offices are more challenging and require more time, knowledge and judgment than ever. At the same time, many communities are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain candidates for appointive office. It is important for selectmen, in particular, to understand the various legal issues involved in properly appointing people to office and removing appointed officials when necessary.

Legal Q and A: Zoning Protest Petitions

This is the time of year for planning boards to consider proposed changes to local zoning ordinances. In certain instances landowners may use a procedure found in RSA 675:5 to “protest” a proposed change, and force the margin of approval from a majority of votes cast to two-thirds of those citizens voting. The purpose of this provision is to protect landowners from ill-advised amendments to zoning ordinances. Disco v. Board of Selectmen of Amherst, 115 N.H. 609 (1975).

Legal Q and A: Local Administration of the State Building code

Prior to 2002, adoption and administration of a building code was purely a local option. In 2002 the New Hampshire legislature adopted the state building code, comprising various model codes. See RSA 155-A:1, IV. The state building code applies to all construction in New Hampshire (RSA 155-A:2; 674:51) and municipalities have the option to administer it.

Legal Q and A: The Selectmen's Authority 'To Manage the Prudential Affairs of the Town'

Legal Q & A: Capital Budgeting and the Planning Board

The following is a short discussion about budgeting for major purchases of capital items at the municipal level. Sometimes this will be an important piece of equipment, like a fire truck or a snowplow, but it also includes much larger public works projects, such as a water line or sewer line, which may require years of planning before the actual work begins.

Q. Is there any requirement that a municipality adopt a separate budget for major capital items, like the State legislature creates every two years?

Legal Q & A: Recovery of Welfare Assistance

The first duty of welfare officials is to provide financial assistance to anyone in town who "is poor and unable to support himself … whether or not he has a residence there." RSA 165:1. But an important secondary duty to the taxpayers of the town is, where practical, to recover money expended to assist eligible applicants. As recently as 1975, the New Hampshire Supreme Court cited the view that Old Age Assistance (OAA) "is in the nature of a loan to be allowed as a claim against the recipient's estate…." In re Estate of Harville, 115 N.H. 480, 482 (1975), quoting State v.

Preemption of Municipal Regulation: 'Who's in Charge Here, Anyway?'