By ROD HANSEN
GOFFSTOWN --- 12/14/06:
Rejecting a citizen’s request that they record their votes in roll-call fashion, Goffstown selectmen recently opted to continue their policy of showing votes as a numerical tally in meeting minutes.
Selectman Nick Campasano proposed on Dec. 4 that meeting minutes show the names of board members who cast opposing or abstaining votes at meetings.
The motion failed by a margin of 2-3, with Campasano and Selectman John Caprio voting in favor and board members Bruce Hunter, Phil D’Avanza and Chairman Barbara Griffin voting against.
Campasano’s motion came in response to an inquiry from resident Guy Caron, chairman of the Goffstown Residents Association.
Following the vote, Campasano said why he supported the change.
"When I’m up for re-election in three years and people want to know how I voted on any specific issue, it would be convenient if they could look it up in the meeting minutes," he said.
In opposition to the motion, Griffin said a final vote should reflect a unified position.
"Once the board votes, that is how the board voted. The final vote is the board’s position," Griffin said, adding that the public record should not account for individual board members’ opinions.
Some of the town’s other boards, including the school board and the planning board, do include opposing and abstaining votes.
Town Planner Steve Griffin said the names of abstaining members are important in cases where a planning board decision is subject to legal review.
"We record who stepped down due to a conflict of interest in case we wind up in court," Griffin said.
The New Hampshire statute governing access to public records and minutes, RSA 91- A:2, does not address specifically whether minutes should reflect how individual board members voted.
However, Caron does quote the statute on the Goffstown Residents Association Web site with some passages highlighted.
"All public proceedings shall be open to the public, and...no vote while in open session may be taken by secret ballot," reads one portion of the RSA highlighted on the Web site.
"Minutes of all such meetings, including names of members, persons appearing before the bodies or agencies, and a brief description of the subject matter discussed and final decisions, shall be promptly recorded and open to public inspection," continues the highlighted portion of the text.
One official with the state’s bar association said law does not require boards to record individual members’ votes, but many towns include the information in their minutes.
"I think the law doesn’t speak to this issue, but I will say many of the towns that I give this advice to do indicate who voted negatively or who abstained as a matter of policy," said Sharon Cuddy Somers, chairman of New Hampshire Municipal Section of the New Hampshire Bar Association.
Caron expressed dismay following the board’s vote, and said he planned to discuss the issue with state legislators as a means of changing the law.
"I was stunned at (the selectmen’s) decision, and especially their reasoning," he said.
"Their explanation was, ‘That’s the way it’s always been done.’ We need more of an answer than that."
However, D’Avanza said selectmen should not be held to a different standard than the budget committee, where opposing and abstaining votes are also not recorded.
"I wouldn’t be against doing it if everybody did it," D’Avanza said.
Hunter and Caprio could not be reached to comment on their votes.
Pam Manney, a state representative from Goffstown, said she thought minutes should reflect the votes of individual members.
"I thought the vote was wrong," Manney said. "Any voter doing research should be able to look up the minutes and see how a selectman voted on an issue. And if a selectman makes a promise that they would support an issue, they should have it on record that they voted a certain way," Manney said.