Manchester Alderman Levasseur files lawsuit to block release of his email records
By TED SIEFER New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER — Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur has filed a lawsuit attempting to block the release of email records that he argues would violate the privacy of constituents.
Levasseur, who is also an attorney, filed the suit in Hillsborough County Superior Court on Tuesday. He also personally delivered copies to the city solicitor’s office and to the home of radio host Rich Girard, the defendants in the suit.
The suit alleges that “the city of Manchester, at no charge to taxpayers recently gave Richard Girard, a local political gadfly and radio host, per his 91-A request, over 11,000 pages of emails containing alderman Levasseur’s name or email address.”
The suit seeks an injunction preventing the dissemination of the information, and it calls on the court to order Girard to compensate the city for costs associated with responding to his request.
Girard, who has publicly feuded with Levasseur, maintained that his right-to-know requests pertained specifically to a prior request from the New Hampshire Union Leader for the aldermen’s email correspondence with city departments and, more recently, for communication regarding the Manchester Dog Park.
“He’s making it look like the right-to-know request was for constituent emails. It wasn’t,” Girard said, adding, “It’s a specious argument. The whole thing is a joke.”
Last week, Levasseur was formally censured by his fellow aldermen following an investigation by the state attorney general that concluded he made unfounded allegations of intimidation and misconduct against the Manchester Police Department.
Girard also stated that he didn’t appreciate Levasseur personally delivering the suit to his home Tuesday morning.
“My wife said Joe Levasseur was on the front porch, which she wasn’t terribly comfortable about,” he said. “I find it interesting that the fellow complaining about intimidation shows up at my home unannounced.”
Levasseur insisted he dropped off the suit simply as courtesy to Girard, and he maintained its goal was to “protect constituents.”
“If the court ends up siding with the city, constituents will at least realize that they have to be careful what they say,” Levasseur said. “How we act as a body and how the city acts are definitely something to be open to the public, but I don’t think somebody should just be able to ask for 30,000 emails.”
Levasseur said he had reviewed the documents the city solicitor’s office intended to release, and they included numerous communications from constituents.
Girard had received two electronic files of information late last week from the city. According to Levasseur’s suit, additional documents were to be released Tuesday.
In the suit, Levasseur noted that Chapter 91-A, commonly known as the right-to-know law, defined governmental records as “information created, accepted, or obtained by, or on behalf of, any public body, or a quorum or majority thereof” — not by a single elected official.
Levasseur points to a 2007 article by Cordell Johnston, the government affairs counsel for the New Hampshire Municipal Association.
“A communication between a member and a non-member of the public body does not involve any kind of deliberation between members of the public body, so it cannot be said that disclosure is necessary to keep the public apprised about discussions that are occurring behind the scenes,” Johnston wrote in the article.
The logistics of maintaining records of communications between constituents and elected officials, Johnston wrote, would be a “nightmare.”
Johnston said in an interview Tuesday that the concerns he raised were reflected in the language of the 2008 law, including the definition of a government record.
Deputy City Solicitor Tom Arnold said he hadn’t had a chance to review Levasseur’s suit, but he said his office was willing “wait for some period of time to see how the court acts.”
In an email last week to Levasseur, Arnold maintained that email that goes through city servers would be presumed to be public.
“While emails must be judged on an individual basis, as a general rule an email that is sent to or from a city email address (i.e. goes through a city server) concerning an official function of the city is a governmental or public record.”
Any email sent to an alderman or department through the city website passes through a city server.
Girard said he hasn’t had a chance to review the records he has received so far, but he said he had no intention of keeping any relevant information under wraps.
“Until and unless there’s a court order telling me I can’t do it, I’m going to proceed as a free citizen and a journalist,” he email@example.com