Right to Know Law
New Hampshire's Right to Know Law, RSA Chapter 91-A, states: "Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of this chapter is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussion and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people." RSA 91-A:1.
The Right to Know Law affects every aspect of local government in our state. Every board, committee, commission and subcommittee in every town, city and village district in New Hampshire must comply with this law. As a result, every local official and employee should be aware of the law and what their responsibilities are regarding both public meetings and governmental records.
Visit the NH General Court website to read the full text of the Right to Know Law.
The New Hampshire Attorney General's Office has published (and updated in 2009) a comprehensive memorandum regarding the Right to Know Law.
Use this flow chart to determine whether a gathering is a "meeting" subject to the law.
This handy two-page document addresses key points of the law as it pertains to Public Meetings and Governmental Records. Print the flyer as a doubled-sided document and keep copies on hand for easy reference.
This brief article addresses practical considerations related to draft meeting minutes.
This two-page form, adapted from forms in use around the state, may be downloaded for use at your meetings. The form includes the statutory reasons local boards may enter nonpublic sessions, prompts the board to take and record required votes, and provides a place to keep minutes of the nonpublic session. Please feel free to download this form, modify it as appropriate with the name of your town, board, and board members, and use it. Our Legal Services attorneys are pleased to answer any questions our member officials may have regarding this form.
NHMA has developed the following reference posters to serve as reminders of the Right to Know Law. These posters may be downloaded and reproduced (print to 11X17 paper size).
The basic rule is that all meetings of a public body must be open to the public and require public notice. Minutes must be kept and be made available to the public upon request within five business days after the meeting. Public bodies may only enter a nonpublic session for specific reasons listed in the law, and must keep minutes of those sessions as well.
The basic rule is that governmental records must be made available for public inspection and copying upon reasonable request. The government must respond to requests within five business days. Certain records are exempt from disclosure, but New Hampshire courts generally assume everything is available to the public unless the governmental agency proves otherwise. (Note that the poster published in April 2008 references the term "public" records; as of July 1, 2008 the legislature revised the term to "governmental" records.)
Under amendments that became effective in 2008, public bodies may not conduct official business via e-mail. Municipal websites may be used as one of the two places for publicly posting notice of meetings. Electronic records must be made available to the public upon request and must be kept for the same length of time as a paper counterpart. Electronic records are considered "deleted" (and no longer available to the public) when they have been "initially and legally deleted" so that they are no longer readily accessible to the public body itself. This means (a) the record wasn't required to be retained any longer, and (b) it has been deleted and the "trash" or "recycle bin" folder has also been emptied.
NHMA Publications and Training Opportunities
The NHMA publications Knowing the Territory: A Survey of Municipal Law for New Hampshire Local Officials and Guidebook for New Hampshire Elected City Officials provide an in depth overview of the Right to Know Law. NHMA conducts a workshop exclusively on the Right to Know Law. This half day workshop reviews specific responsibilities relating to public meetings and governmental records. The Right to Know Law is covered thoroughly at the spring Local Officials Workshops and winter Elected City Officials Workshop, with ample opportunity for questions and answers.