Town Takes Coyle to Court Over Request for E-Mails

The Town of Derry is resisting efforts by a former Town Councilor to obtain e-mails written by several Councilors after a non-public session this past September.

Kevin Coyle, who is also a Rockingham County Commissioner and is prosecutor for the Londonderry Police Department, filed a Right-To-Know request for copies of e-mails exchanged after a non-public session Sept. 12.  The session dealt with “personnel and legal matters.” The town has filed a petition to Rockingham County Superior Court to keep Coyle from obtaining the e-mails.

According to a court filing by town attorney Brenda Keith, four of the seven Councilors participated in the exchange. Chairman Michael Fairbanks responded to caution the other three that the matter should be discussed in non-public session and not by e-mail, leaving only three to discuss “the substantive matter,” Keith wrote.

Keith wrote in her filing that “some members of the body mistakenly continued the discussion in an e-mail correspondence after the meeting.”  She wrote that they have since participated in training on Right-To-Know with the New Hampshire Municipal Association and the town’s legal firm.

For his part, Coyle is mystified as to why the town has taken him to court. “It’s a total waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.  “It’s totally bizarre.”

Coyle explained,  “I wanted to get a list of the communications between the Councilors. It was curiosity about what kind of communication was happening. Then they sued me.”

Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau said, “On Oct. 24, Kevin requested access to any e-mails between me and the Town Council from July 1, 2013 to Oct. 31, 2013. He filed a Right-To-Know request pursuant to RSA 91-A. As a result, we had our town attorney review the e-mails. Some of the e-mails were determined not to be part of the public record.”

Budreau declined to comment as to whether the e-mails referred to personnel issues or “matters which if discussed in public would adversely affect the reputation of any person other than the body itself.”

“The town believes,” he said, “that the requested e-mails were not considered public e-mails.”

Budreau said the review of the e-mails did disclose that at one point several councilors engaged in “too much discussion” via the electronic media, but the topic discussed was still not public record.

Budreau said Keith filed a “petition for a declarative judgment” with the court, asking for the court to review the facts and make a determination about what to do next.

Rockingham Superior Court Judge Marguerite Wageling was expected to hear further arguments Thursday, March 6.