The New Hampshire Attorney General issued a Memorandum to the “People of New Hampshire” stating “The public’s right to know what its government is doing is a fundamental part of New Hampshire’s democracy. New Hampshire’s Constitution and the Right-to-Know law ensure that the public has reasonable access to meetings of public bodies and to governmental records”
So what does this mean to you as a resident of your Town or City and what should you expect to see when asked for records?
Today we will talk about email, this is something that is used every day when conducting Town business. It is so important that the Attorney General stated in the Memorandum to the People of New Hampshire that “It is important for those public officials who use e-mail or who maintain government records in electronic form to carefully study the 2008 and 2009 changes to the law relating to electronic records.”
OK, what happens when you request email records from your Town and what you should receive from them? Well I would expect to see: the emails that I requested. and and all attachments that were a part of the email.
Why is seeing the attachments to the emails important?This is the only way to verify that the attachment is the “Original” attachment that was included in the email. Let’s look into this “Original” attachment in more detail. I’ll give you an example of the importance of being able to get the attachment from the original email in the following story:
Fred sends and email to Sally and includes an attachment named July 4th Food List.doc on July 1, 2021 that contains the following text
I will buy the following food for the cookout: Lettuce, tomatoes, 1lb of Hamburg and mustard
Fred makes changes to July 4th Food List.doc “BUT DOES NOT CHANGE THE FILE NAME” and emails it to Sally on July 2, 2021 with the following text
Sally, I need to add the following to the list; 12 Hot Dogs, Hot Dog Buns, 2lbs of Hamburg, Lettuce, tomatoes but I do not need mustard
Fred makes a final change to July 4th Food List.doc, does not change the names and sends it to Sally with the following text
Sally, let’s start over, I will need to purchase 12 steaks, 2lbs of Potato Salad and a premade salad for the 4th of July Cookout.
Now comes the Right to Know Request:
You asked the Town for all of the emails between Fred and Sally from June 1, 2021 through July 30, 2021 in your Right to Know Request. The Town provides the emails and you see an attachment named July 4th Food List.doc in three individual emails but the attachments to the emails are missing. You ask the Town for the files and the Town tells you to go to their Website to find the July 4th Food List.doc file but there is only ONE file that looks like the correct file but it is named: july_4th_food_list.doc.
You need to ask yourself these questions:
1. Is the file on the website named july_4th_food_list.doc the same file as the one that was in ALL THREE of the emails: July 4th Food List.doc
2. Why would they rename a file when they uploaded it to the Website
3. When they renamed the file, did the file change at all
4. Did the three emails with the attachment contain the Exact Same File
You know from the story above that each of the three email contained a file with the Same Name but they ALL contained Different Information. So you can answer the questions above: Is the file on the website named july_4th_food_list.doc the same file as the one that was in ALL THREE of the emails July 4th Food List.doc ?
NO – There are FOUR DIFFERENT FILES
1. July 1, 2021 email attachment – July 4th Food List.doc
2. July 2, 2021 email attachment – July 4th Food List.doc
3. July 3, 2021 email attachment – July 4th Food List.doc
4. Website File - july_4th_food_list.doc
Why would they rename a file when they uploaded it to the Website? They should not have. When they renamed the file, did the file change at all? We do not know, they changed the file name and we do not know which file they uploaded.
This is why a Right to Know Request should provide ALL Attachments with the original email.
- You know that the attachment is the Original One that was sent with the email
- You can save the attachments to review at a later time
We hope this information has been useful to you. Cities and Towns should be following the NH Attorney General's Memorandum on Right-to-Know Law and providing their residents all of the information that is requested and can be provided in accordance to State Law.