Legal Q & A

It’s Mud Season: Weight Restrictions on Local Roads

Q. Do local officials have the authority to keep certain vehicles off of local roads?

Meeting Minutes 101

Boards often wrestle with taking meeting minutes—worrying that too much information will get them in trouble if an issue goes to court. This fear is balanced against the desire of board members to make sure their minutes are informative and helpful to citizens and to the board itself. Does the law require that meeting minutes contain certain information? Is it better to be brief and vague when preparing the minutes? Should meetings be tape recorded so that greater detail can be put into the minutes?

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Towns and cities have several options available to manage, conserve and protect town property in ways that best fit the needs of the municipality. Voters may establish a conservation commission to encourage the conservation of lands within their town by purchasing land or easements to protect a parcel from development and to conserve it for future generations. Voters may also vote to establish a town forest to ensure that particular attention is given to the management of a specific piece of town property. In this way, the town forest can be maintained as a healthy and productive forest.

Land Use Violation Enforcement Costs Can Be Recovered

Q. We have been dealing with a land use violation in our code enforcement department. We have alerted the owner to the problem, and have tried to resolve the issue by seeking his voluntary compliance. Unfortunately, the owner has ignored our letters and calls and we think that an action in court will be required. Is there any statute that describes how to seek enforcement in these cases?

Prosecutors Must Review Police Personnel Files for Exculpatory Evidence

Information in police personnel or internal investigation files is sometimes disclosed for use as evidence in criminal cases. This practice raises numerous questions about the procedures for determining what information may be disclosed. Understandably, it is a sensitive issue for most municipal police officers and prosecutors. The law on this issue has been refined this year by a ruling from the New Hampshire Supreme Court that will trigger new procedures for handling such information by police departments and prosecutors.

Using Trust and Capital Reserve Funds to Make Lease Payments: Can It Be Done?

The town’s old plow truck is still running due only to the dedication and considerable mechanical talents of the highway department crew who have so far been able to work miracles to keep the truck on the road. Unfortunately, the town’s best mechanic has just given his notice and is moving south to enjoy semi-retirement in the sun. The selectmen know that without their ace mechanic, the town’s luck in keeping this plow truck running until town meeting probably won’t last.

Handling Forfeited and Abandoned Property

Local governing bodies and law enforcement agencies are often called upon to deal with various forms of forfeited and abandoned property. However, not all property is the same. It is important for all municipal officials to understand the different sources of this property and the ways in which municipalities can properly use and dispose of it.

Q: What are the different categories of forfeited or abandoned property?

A: The main categories are drug forfeitures, other criminal forfeitures, and abandoned property and real estate.

Rehearings by the Planning Board

Unlike the zoning board of adjustment, there is no statute that requires any participant in a matter before the planning board to move for a rehearing prior to seeking further review of a decision by appeal. This can lead to confusion when a participant in fact does move the planning board to grant a request for rehearing.

Dealing with E-mail Communication Under New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law

One of the thorniest problems for local officials these days is determining how to deal with e-mail communication under New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law. Recommended amendments to the law put forth by the Right to Know Law Study Commission, which became this year’s HB 626, would have clarified many of the issues raised by electronic communications. Unfortunately, however, the bill was effectively killed in the Senate, so the legislative clarification long-awaited by local officials did not come to pass.

Town Managers vs. Town Administrators: What’s the Difference?

It would be hard to imagine any board of selectmen that could operate efficiently and effectively without the assistance of capable administrators and office staff. Selectmen are called upon to make many important decisions as they “manage the prudential affairs" of the town, and to do so, they often turn to town managers and town administrators to assist them.