New Hampshire school board ordered to release sealed meeting minutes discussing former superintendent’s credit card misuse
The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that a New Hampshire state trial court has ordered the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District (WLCSD) to release school board meeting minutes containing a discussion of an investigation of former Superintendent Trevor Ebel’s misuse of a district-provided credit card. The court’s ruling was in response to a suit filed by The New Hampshire Union Leader after its request for information under the state’s Right-to-Know Law was denied by WLCSD.
The news organization sought the release of school board meeting minutes and an investigative report written by an independent investigator that the school board hired to look into Mr. Ebel’s credit card use. On April 24, 2012, the school board reviewed the report in a non-public session and then sealed the report and meeting minutes in an envelope that was to be kept undisclosed for 50 years. The school board argued that disclosure would violate Mr. Ebel’s privacy rights or harm his reputation. Additionally, WLCSD feared that disclosure would hinder internal investigations that rely on “honest and candid witness responses” to ensure a thorough investigation.
Judge Kenneth Brown of Hillsborough County Superior Court North ruled that WLCSD must release the minutes, but may redact names of people who cooperated in the investigation to protect confidentiality. Judge Brown explained that because the district had previously released Mr. Ebel’s employment contract and a list of transactions made by Mr. Ebel using the district’s credit card and other information, the order to release the meeting minutes would not significantly interfere with Mr. Ebel’s privacy interest. However, the investigation report was exempt from disclosure.
Mr. Ebel resigned at the April 24 meeting, after the school board reviewed the investigation report. Additionally, the school board reviewed an audit report revealing payroll advances and unreimbursed personal purchases Mr. Edel had made with the credit card. Among the unauthorized expenditures were charges for alcohol, limousines, movies, and meals. Some of the expenses were reimbursed, but about $2,100 remain unaccounted for.
Source: The New Hampshire Union Leader, 6/1/2012, By Tim Buckland
[Editor's Note: In May 2012, Legal Clips summarized a 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. The Express Times, which held that the school district had to disclose all emails to and from its school board, the individual members, and the superintendent from a certain time period to the newspaper under the state’s Right-To-Know Law. The panel majority found that the requested emails constitute public records, and the district did not raise all available objections to access when the records request was made.]