New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know law, RSA 91-A states in its preamble, “Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society.” However, when public information is withheld from citizens, it illustrates a larger problem.
Recently, five students, including myself, have come into the media’s spotlight. Better known now as The Keene State Five, we took the City of Keene to court on Dec. 13, 2017 for violating New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law. Back in September, our Public Affairs Reporting class filed right to know requests for a project, and little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.
The five of us requested information ranging from restaurant inspections, alcohol possession charges for minors, police brutality charges among the Keene Police Department and sexual assault records. Toward the end of the semester, nearly three months after requesting information and getting jerked around and denied by city officials, we were faced with two options: to go to court and get the requested public information we as citizens are entitled to look at or to leave it and lose the battle. We ultimately made the decision to take the City of Keene to court because we wanted to set an example. By denying us public information, what officials are doing is wrong. They are making the information inaccessible by finding loopholes in the law, saying data doesn’t exist or they aren’t required to search and retract from different databases. When it comes down to it, that’s not what it means to be a democracy.
It’s important for everyone to to have access to public documents because it keeps us in touch with our communities. Because it has taken so long to receive what should be basic knowledge, it makes us look deeper and wonder why the City of Keene isn’t willing to release public information. Is it really because they are not necessarily required to do so, or is it that this information is something they’d rather hide?
We hope that for the next journalist trying to request information, or even the next enthusiastic citizen who wants to know more about their town or state, that they won’t be given the runaround we have.
Grace Pecci can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org