By STEPHEN BEALE
Union Leader Correspondent
GOFFSTOWN --- 12/10/06:
Selectmen last week adopted as official policy its long-standing practice of not recording in the minutes of its meetings how individual members voted on a motion, raising concerns about the public's right to know.
On Monday, Selectman Nick Campasano made a motion to identify in the minutes who voted no or abstained. John Caprio seconded the motion, which was defeated by the three remaining selectmen.
In an interview after the meeting, Campasano said the idea of recording names with votes arose during a conversation he had with a resident who had been researching meeting records and found it impossible to determine who had voted in what way.
"I believe in openness," Campasano said. "Everything should be exposed to the voters. I see no reason why something like that should not be recorded."
Selectman Phil D'Avanza, who voted against the motion on Monday, said the board has never recorded names with votes, in keeping with what he said is normal practice on every other board and committee in town.
The planning board, however, does record no votes by name, according to the minutes from the Monday selectmen's meeting. The school board does so, as well. In the publicly available minutes for every meeting held so far this fall, members who voted against a measure or abstained are identified.
D'Avanza said he opposed the change because it undermined the ability of individual members to represent the opinion of the board to other groups in town. "You function as a board, not as individuals," he said.
Campasano and Caprio disagreed.
They said D'Avanza was mixing separate issues. Recording individual names, they said, would do nothing to affect the official position the board takes.
The New Hampshire Right to Know Law -- adopted in 1967 and amended several times since through legislation and court action -- requires public bodies keep minutes of meetings and record descriptions of all final decisions made.
It is unclear whether those descriptions must include names.
"The law doesn't say you have to record who votes how," said Cordell Johnston, a government affairs attorney with the New Hampshire Municipal Association.
"I think that's a gray area. I think the better practice "is to indicate who voted which way."
Johnston said in his experience as a member and observer of public boards, names have been included with votes in meeting minutes. But he said he did not know if that was the majority practice throughout the state.
Nancy Smith, a senior assistant attorney general, said a roll call vote of names was necessary only when a body is deciding to go into non-public session. On Monday, selectmen did hold a non-public meeting and the draft minutes available on the town Web site show a roll call vote was taken.
Campasano and Caprio remain surprised their fellow board members took exception to their proposal.
"I don't see what the big deal is," Caprio said.
"Once you've voted, it's part of the public record. "I'm just perplexed as to why people are reluctant to have their votes recorded."
Selectmen Barbara Griffin and Bruce Hunter could not be reached for comment.