Manchester's policy governing how the city complies with the state right-to-know law is working out exactly how its two biggest critics - former Alderman Rich Girard and this newspaper - had predicted it would.
Last week our reporter Mark Hayward had to go to City Hall and take photographs of a public document that was once accessible for free via email. He also had to make his copies under the supervision of a city employee. All of this was mandated by the new right-to-know policy, written by Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry.
City staff post online the agendas and minutes of public meetings. For the aldermanic meetings, they also post any accompanying documents, such as reports given to aldermen or proposals under consideration by the board. Accompanying documents are not posted for other boards, such as the Zoning Board.
In the past, reporters would ask for those documents, and someone at City Hall would email copies. Now, under Alderman Barry's policy, the city charges a fee of $1 for the first page and 50 cents for each additional page - to email electronic copies of documents that the city already should have stored in digital form.
To avoid the per-page charge, a member of the public has to come to City Hall and either read the document there or take photos of it. Per the new policy, this must be done under the supervision of a city employee.
In the name of saving the city money, the new policy actually costs the city more. Whereas it might have taken an employee one minute to attach a file to an email and hit "send," the employee now must sit with a member of the public for as long as it takes to read or photograph the public document that could have been emailed in moments. That wastes the time of both the employee and the citizen.
As we wrote in April, a per-page charge for electronic copies of public documents should not be allowed, as such charges are imposed solely to discourage the public from obtaining public documents.
The city's new policy is achieving the double harm of costing the taxpayers more while limiting public access to public records. The public should demand that it be changed immediately.