Study shows half of Rye Selectmen meetings are non-public

39-month period examined; a third of time is spent behind closed doors

Dominique Winebaum and Jack Driscoll

Nearly half of the meetings held by the Rye Board of Selectmen were closed to the public during a three-year, three-month period (39 months) that was studied by Rye Reflections. A total of 133 meetings were public and another 124 were non-public.

About a third (32.35 percent) of the total time spent meeting was in non-public sessions from January 3, 2006 to March 26, 2009, and frequently the minutes were voted to be sealed.

Although Rye has a higher percentage of non-public meetings and spends a higher percentage of time behind closed doors compared to two adjoining towns, the Town of Rye is more meticulous about conforming to state law as regards the reason for going non-public, the time the sessions begin and the time the sessions end.

Local government meetings are governed by Chapter 91-A of the New Hampshire Statutes. Open meetings come under Chapter 91-A:2, and Non-Public Sessions come under Chapter 91-A:3.Minutes and Records available for Public Inspection is the title of Chapter 91-A:4.

Also studied extensively by Rye Reflections but not for the exact same time period were records for the Boards of Selectmen in North Hampton and Greenland. The Town of Stratham was unable to make available online or written minutes of past Selectmen meetings. Town Administrator Paul Deschaine said that due to "staff issues" the minutes were only available on tape for the period requested: 2006, 2007 and part of 2008.

The same 39-month period was looked at for North Hampton, but some of the data for 11 meetings failed to specify when meetings started or ended. What was ascertained was that North Hampton had 81 Selectmen meetings (compared to 133 in Rye) and 93 non-public sessions (compared to 124 in Rye). North Hampton Selectmen tended to be more expansive in their reasoning for going into non-public sessions, using such descriptors as: "To review candidates for Town Administrator's position" or "to discuss a possible acquisition of real estate" or "to interview candidate."

Based on an analysis of 70 North Hampton meetings, that town spent 19.7 percent of its total time in non-public meetings.

The Town of Greenland has minutes of meetings available online for all of 2008 and all of 2009 so far. Also due to missing data regarding beginning or ending times (non-public meetings often follow public meetings), the analysis of meetings in Greenland spanned only 19 months (compared to 39 for the others). In that time Greenland's Board of Selectmen held 58 public meetings and 16 non-public meetings.

The average time spent in non-public sessions was 9.63 percent for the period from October 1, 2007, to March 30, 2009.

(Dominique Winebaum is a resident of Rye.)

July, 2009