Keene State Professor, Students in Lawsuit with City over Right to Know

Jan 8, 2018

Credit visitnhcolleges.com

A professor from Keene State College is representing five of her students in a lawsuit against the city of Keene for failing to fulfill Right-to-Know requests.

Journalism professor Marianne Salcetti calls the students the “Keene State Five.” Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with her about the lawsuit.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

How did this all come about?

Well, it started when the class started actually. The course is called public affairs reporting. I teach it every two years at Keene State. As part of the course, there's a thread where by having them file as they are called in New Hampshire Right-to-Know requests, it gives them the opportunity to really get an idea how government works and the whole getting of public documents. And so each student was to file two Right-to-Know requests of any topic of their choosing in any public entity.

So what information were the students seeking?

Two of the students filed Right-to-Know requests regarding restaurant inspections in Keene, and they were basically denied. A second student filed to get sexual assault records, and did not receive the information. A third student cited New Hampshire law regarding minors in possession of alcohol. And finally, a student filed wanting excessive police force and police brutality complaints--just a list.

What was the response they were getting from the city departments on this?

It varied, and was just generally inconsistent. Some students filed their Right-to-Know by e-mail with the city of Keene. That was fine. Some students were told, you have to deliver a hard copy personally to City Hall, and so they did. Some students were told, you have to deliver a hard copy and personally sign it. And two of my students were told they had to hand write, which they did, the entire Right-to-Know request by hand and sign it. Generally, it would be fair to say the five students were essentially told that the records are not in a form that they have to share, and that to put them into some kind of format, given New Hampshire's Right-to-Know law, the public entity is not compelled or required to do so.

So they're not saying they don't have these statistics, they don't have these numbers, they don't have the data. They just don't have it in a form that they want to give out, and they don't have to.

That is what it appears to be. The words kept shifting. Students would hear information, or they would hear a report or they would hear database. They would also then hear different words such as the gathering of material, the compiling, the producing. It was not consistent. But what was consistent, was the city of Keene's refusal to give these documents to the students.

What are you and your students ultimately hoping to accomplish with the lawsuit?

I guess two things: one, to get the documents because information is just necessary in a democracy. And I guess secondly, to show that we're all citizens. We all have a right to information. It shouldn't matter if it's a college student or the guy down the street. It's to be information that's available for all of us. I hope the New Hampshire legislature takes another look at our Right-to-Know law. New Hampshire is not viewed as having a particularly accessible and understandable Right-to-Know law.