MANCHESTER — Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur defended his decision to bring a lawsuit concerning the city's response to several right-to-know requests, following harsh criticism Tuesday from the men who have sought the information.
Levasseur filed the suit last week against the city and radio host Richard Girard, charging that the city was willing to improperly turn over emails from constituents and without assessing fees to produce the material.
Girard addressed the aldermen during the public comment period at the start of Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
He said information alleged in Levasseur's suit was "not true," stressing that one of his requests concerned emails that had already been produced through an information request from the New Hampshire Union Leader. He said another narrowly concerned emails between Levasseur and a group of residents who have been critics of the Manchester Dog Park Association.
Girard said that the city had yet to comply with the request three months after it had been filed. He said he recently learned that the emails being withheld were in fact produced in response to a request from former alderman Phil Greazzo, the founder of the dog park who has sought to have Levasseur removed from office for misconduct. Later at Tuesday's meeting, the aldermen rejected considering Greazzo's proposal to do so. The city solicitor's office was prepared to release the emails last week, but held off after Levasseur filed his suit.
Greazzo also spoke during the public comment period, slamming city officials for not appropriately addressing his request for Levasseur's communications filed in November, well in excess of the five days the city had to furnish an official response under Chapter 91-A, the right-to-know law.
"I have leaned that Alderman Levasseur has repeatedly stalled (the request)," Greazzo said. "The emails will prove that he lied to your faces."
Both Greazzo and Girard have alleged that Levasseur, contrary to his public statements, conspired with the dog park critics to undermine Greazzo ahead of the November election, in which he lost his Ward 10 seat.
Later in the evening, Levasseur defended his decision to file the suit. He said the city was too wiling to release emails, without applying the fees that normally apply to producing records (50 cents a page), or considering the staff time that must be devoted to responding to the requests.
"This is not as simple as someone coming in and giving a flash card and saying give me what you got," he said.
Levasseur stressed his main concern was that emails from constituents should not be considered public records. "My emails are out there, but constituent emails are sacrosanct and should be protected," he said.
Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry, who defeated Greazzo, is currently consulting with the offices of the city clerk and solicitor on developing a standard policy for dealing with right-to-know requests.