Today I received word from the Town Manager that a settlement agreement has been signed.
Bob: In response to your previous Right-to-Know law request to see a copy of the signed settlement agreement between the Town and Wright-Pierce Engineers, I can inform you that all the parties have now signed the settlement agreement, and so the signed settlement agreement now actually exists. However, I must decline to make a copy of the document available for your inspection for the following reasons;
· The Settlement Agreement is “confidential” within the meaning of RSA 91-A:5, IV and therefore not subject to disclosure to the general public, and
· RSA 91 A:4, XI provides that “every agreement to settle a lawsuit against a governmental unit, threatened lawsuit, or other claim, entered into by any political subdivision or its insurer, shall be dept on file at the municipal clerk’s office and made available for public inspection for a period of no less than 10 years from the date of settlement.” The Wright-Pierce litigation was a lawsuit by, not against, a governmental unit. Had the Legislature intended that agreement to settle a lawsuit by a governmental unit be made available for public inspection, it could simply have added the words “by or” before “against a governmental unit” in RSA 91A:4, XL.
Sounds great! So Wright Pierce (and their insurance company) paid us $7.5 million right? I’m not so sure about that. That is, I believe the town is going to get $7.5 million, I just doubt it’s all coming from Wright-Pierce.
I’m disappointed that the Selectmen would make such a high stakes agreement with a complete lack of transparency. They have told us only what they want us to know. It wouldn’t take a month to finalize the agreement as they have characterized it. We don’t know who is paying us the money. We don’t know what concessions the town has made in return for the money. Most importantly, we don’t know how this agreement affects the town’s options regarding moving forward with solving our effluent disposal problem. That’s not open government.
Of course the Selectmen will say that the agreement doesn’t affect our options. Then again, if they think it does, they can’t tell us, and that’s just their interpretation anyway. That’s why there is a Right-to-Know law.