A Committee of City Employees that Provides Advice to Planning Board Applicants is Not a Public Body under the Right-to-Know Law; 50 Cents Per Page for Copying is Permissible Under 91-A.

Paul Martin v. City of Rochester
New Hampshire Supreme Court Docket No. 2019-0150
Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The New Hampshire Supreme Court narrowly interprets the definition of “advisory committee” in RSA 91-A:1-a, ruling that the City of Rochester’s Technical Review Group (TRG) was not a public body subject to the public meeting rules of the Right-to-Know Law.

The Rochester City Manager appointed city employees to the TRG to provide advice to planning board applicants on their proposed projects. Each member of the TRG would suggest changes in accordance with city regulations, laws, and policies. After the TRG meeting the city planner prepared a summary of the comments made by each TRG member that was provided to the applicant, placed in the planning board file, and made available for public inspection. The plaintiff sought access to the TRG meetings claiming they were held in violation of RSA 91-A because members of the public were not permitted to attend. The Supreme Court concluded that because the TRG’s primary purpose was not to provide the appointing authority with advice or recommendations concerning the formulation of any public policy or legislation it was not an advisory committee as defined in RSA 91-A:1-a, I.

The plaintiff also challenged the city’s copying fee schedule as applied to public records sought under RSA 91-A:4. The city charges a fee of fifty cents per page for the first ten pages and then ten cents per page thereafter. Based on his calculations the plaintiff argued that only a rate of four cents per copy would comply with RSA 91-A:4, IV. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that testimony of the city manager was adequate evidence that the city’s fee schedule was commensurate with the actual cost of providing the copy. The Court noted that the legislature did not mandate the use of a formulaic method for determining the actual cost for copying. Thus, the testimony provided by the city manager that that the city based its copying fee on the cost of leasing copy machines, maintenance, capital costs of the machines, and the cost of paper was sufficient.


Additional Information: 

Practice Pointer: A committee formed by a town official or public body that only offers direct advice to a person seeking municipal permits or approvals, and does not offer the official or public body advice or recommendations concerning the formulation of any public policy or legislation is not an advisory committee as defined in RSA 91-A:1-a, I. When such a committee meets it would not be deemed a public body and would not be required to permit members of the public to attend such committee meetings. 50 cents per page for the first 10 pages and 10 cents per page thereafter is a permissible copying fee for public records under RSA 91-A:4, IV (d).