In 1941, the New Hampshire Municipal Association was formed to provide legal, legislative advocacy, and other services to its members, which are comprised of political subdivisions such as cities and counties. The Association was later renamed the Local Government Center, or LGC.
In 2007, the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire requested a number of documents from LGC and its subsidiaries, including salary and benefit records for LGC employees. When LGC refused the request, the firefighters filed a lawsuit under New Hampshire's “Right to Know” law.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the firefighters' request. LGC's primary argument was that at least some of its employees were not public employees, did not manage money collected by governmental entities, and did not perform an essential governmental function. While the Court recognized that “some entities are not easily characterized as solely private or entirely public and not all organizations that work for or with the government are subject to the right-to-know law, an entity that has a distinct legal existence separate from the State, and that functions independently from the State, may nevertheless be subject to the law depending upon its structure and function.”
Analyzing the case before it, the Court found that “all of the LGC's affiliated entities are part of an organization solely owned by LGC, and managed by a single board of directors, consisting of municipal public officials, school public officials, employee officials, and the County public officials. The LGC bylaws state that the Board of Directors shall set policy, oversee and administer LGC and its subsidiaries.
“We acknowledge that LGC subsidiaries perform different functions for LGC, and such functions arguably could only be performed by a private entity. However, LGC admitted that it assists members in performing essential governmental functions. Furthermore, the subsidiaries are directly managed by, owned by and operate for the sole benefit of LGC, which has a conceited status as a governmental entity whose members consist solely of political subdivisions and which is managed solely by municipal, school, employee and County officials.”
LGC also resisted the firefighters' request for the names and individual salaries of LGC employees. LGC contended that because its employees were “private” by nature, their salary records were entitled to a greater degree of privacy protection under the law then were public employee records. LGC also contended that the information about its employees were records pertaining to confidential or financial information which were exempt from disclosure under the law.
The Court rejected LGC's defenses, and ordered the production of the names and salaries. The Court observed that “salaries of public officials and employees, both state and municipal, have commonly been published in different venues without significant damage to individual dignity or the efficient management of the State system. These records are pertinent to the mode and manner of public expenditures, and the law favors public scrutiny in order to enable resident voters to properly exercise their final appropriating authority. The salaries of public employees are not intimate details the disclosure of which might harm the individual.”
Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire v. Local Government Center, Inc., 2010 WL 323119 (N.H. 2010).
This article appears in the March 2010 issue