Superior Court Judge Keeps Town Council E-Mails Private

The Town of Derry will keep a series of Town Council e-mails private, after a Rockingham County Superior Court judge ruled that the e-mails in question are confidential personnel documents.

On Thursday, March 6, Judge Marguerite Wageling heard testimony from resident Kevin Coyle, town attorney Brenda Keith, Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau and Town Councilor Mark Osborne regarding a series of e-mails exchanged by Councilors from July 1 to Oct. 31, 2013. Coyle had requested copies of the e-mails under RSA 91:A, and the town took Coyle to court rather than release the documents.

Budreau said Monday that Wageling made her ruling on Friday. “The court has concluded the town is correct and the documents should not be released,” Budreau said.

Budreau said in the eyes of the court, the e-mails are “confidential personnel documents” and protected under 91:A.

Coyle, a former town councilor who was on vacation in Florida, said he had not received notification from the court as to the decision.

He said he would not pursue the matter further, noting, “The town brought me to court. It’s a waste of time and energy to appeal this.”

The issue centered around e-mails that were exchanged after Sept. 11, 2013. At that time, the Council had met with their labor counsel, Thomas Claussen, regarding former Town Administrator John Anderson.

The next day a member new to the Council initiated an e-mail exchange, which Keith admitted could have been interpreted as a continuation of the meeting the day before.

But, she added, Town Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks stopped the e-mail dialogue and cautioned members that the exchange could be considered an “improper meeting.”

Keith said in the March 6 hearing that the separation agreement with Anderson included a “confidentiality clause,” and that violating that clause would expose the town to liability.

Further, she said, there was no “willful or purposeful” violation of 91:A, and that Councilors later took a special class on the Right-To-Know Law.

But Coyle contended that “if it happened outside a meeting and it wasn’t properly sealed, that made it a public conversation.”

Anderson was arrested at his home July 1, 2013, and charged with two counts of indecent exposure after allegedly exposing himself to a DirecTV salesman. His employment with the town was terminated Oct. 31.