Protect right to know

Procuring and publishing information about the activities of government is vital to the preservation of our republic.

It also happens to be a significant portion of The Telegraph’s mission.

Therefore, we will never be the ones to say that members of the public should stop filing right-to-know requests about the actions of their government.

Tuesday, Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess joined Administrative Services Director Kim Kleiner, Administrative Assistant Karina Ochoa and Assessing Administration Supervisor Louise Brown to tell The Telegraph that they are being inundated with right-to-know requests by residents Laurie Ortolano and Laura Colquhoun. City officials said Ortolano and Colquhoun have sought access to approximately 34,000 documents since September.

Donchess said: “To us, it seems like the intention is to disable, to retaliate, to punish the city – not to help anything. What is this helping exactly?”

“When we have to consider hiring a $100,000 lawyer to respond to right-to-knows after we’ve produced tens of thousands of documents, I’d say that’s out of hand,” Donchess added.

For several months, Ortolano has complained about the work of the Nashua Assessing Department, mostly in relation to what she believed were unfair appraisals of certain properties, including her own. She even went as far as paying $8,000 to a private investigator to follow city employee Greg Turgiss because she believed he was sleeping on the job.

Ortolano refutes Donchess’ claim that she is simply trying to “retaliate.”

“The city will not allow the public to communicate on the assessing issues. The only way to verify the data is through the right-to-know requests,” Ortolano told The Telegraph.

While we can see the argument city officials make about the request of 34,000 documents being excessive, we also will always demand as much transparency as reasonably possible from government.

Furthermore, the vast majority – 31,000 pages – of the requested documents are for the work Massachusetts-based KRT Appraisal performed during the last property revaluation.

“The 31,000 pages, the bulk of this view is looking at KRT’s supporting data to do the mass appraisal,” Ortolano said. “That’s a unique situation and the city’s just got to deal with it. They have all the information.”

The best possible solution to this dispute would be if the city could use technology to make much of the information available to the public through a website. This would certainly take some time (and money) for the city to implement, but it would alleviate the problem of dealing with so many right-to-know requests.

While we are sympathetic to the plight of city officials in this particular matter, we must always stand up for the public’s right-to-know.