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Texting in public: Aldermen and the right to know

Nashua might be on the path to solving a problem shared by many municipalities across New Hampshire: technology’s circumvention of the state right-to-know law. One aldermen has made a proposal that should draw the attention of other cities and towns.

With cell phones, tablets and laptops in use by so many elected officials during public meetings, keeping track of the officials’ communications has become nearly impossible. Are they texting or emailing each other during public meetings. Are they communicating with lobbyists or other non-board members? That might sound like a trivial issue, but it is a potentially very serious one.

The whole point of having the public’s business done in public is so the people can see and hear what their elected representatives are doing on their behalf. If aldermen or other public board members are communicating in secret via text messages or email during public meetings, that is a clear violation of the right-to-know law.

“What we have been doing sort of bumps up against the right-to-know,” Nashua At-Large Alderman Barbara Pressley said recently when discussing her proposal to ensure that public communications stay public.

Pressley would let aldermen use their own devices under specific usage rules, use a city-owned tablet, or stick with paper. This is a proposal well worth considering. It could end up saving municipalities money (from printing costs) while keeping elected officials’ communications in the public eye.

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