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Author Topic: LT - Deliberative Session Quorum Called into Legal Question  (Read 894 times)
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« on: July 22, 2010, 12:15:44 PM »

From the Londonderry Times

Deliberative Session Quorum Called into Legal Question
April Guilmet
Londonderry Times

A question raised by Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan during last week's Londonderry Charter Commission meeting regarding the constitutionality of a mandatory quorum at town or school deliberative sessions has given town officials more to ponder when it comes to the question of whether or not to revise Londonderry's town charter.

And when contacted by the Londonderry Times about the legality of a quorum, New Hampshire Deputy Attorney General Bud Fitch said a mechanism to preclude voters from having the right to make changes, such as by instituting a quorum, deprives them of their rights.

Formed during the March Town Meeting, the commission is in the process of gathering information to make recommendations as to whether to ask voters to consider replacing Town Meeting with official ballot voting (Senate Bill 2 or SB2).

The commission will hold its final public hearing on the matter July 26, and a draft of its final recommendation will be completed one month later.

During the July 12 meeting, Scanlan gave an overview of the Secretary of State office's role in assisting communities with charter revisions. At that time, Commissioner Steve Young, who sits on the school board, noted how this past year's attempts to reduce the quorum size during school deliberative sessions had failed, with the board voting against reducing the 500-person quorum to 350.

Scanlon's response was that the constitutionality of a quorum itself "is worth considering."

Contacted late last week, Scanlan said he was not aware of too many towns or school districts with a quorum required to conduct business.

As for how many towns and school districts have a quorum, Scanlan said he was unsure. "It's very few, but beyond that, I really wouldn't have an exact number," Scanlan said, referring inquiries to the state Attorney General's office.

Last week, Deputy Attorney General Fitch noted that should a voter attend a public meeting and his or her vote was found to be invalid due to a minimum quorum's not being met, that voter could, in theory, challenge the town or school district, though the outcome would be up to the state Supreme Court.

"If a deliberative session isn't working due to the fact that not enough people are consistently showing up, it could mean a breakdown of the democratic process," Fitch said. "My understanding of a democratic form of government would be that everyone participating has the right to vote. Part of that right would be the right to make changes and have a chance to alter the question that's coming before them. If a deliberative session has a mechanism precluding the opportunity to do that, then voters are being deprived of their rights."

Fitch said the role of the attorney general's office is limited when it comes to guiding communities' governing methods.

"If a town intends to adopt or revise its charter, we work with them to determine if that charter aligns with state laws," Fitch said. "I'm not aware of any court ruling on this issue, but the general laws of this state indicate when a town or school district gathers, there is no provision for quorums."

Ron Campo, chairman of the Londonderry School Board, said the school district's quorum has been in place since the charter was approved nearly two decades ago.

"There are two reasons for having a quorum," Campo said, noting that during the time of the current charter's approval, several towns had very few residents showing up for their deliberative session.

"We're talking just a handful of people," Campo said. "During that time, the general budget also tended to be much higher than the default budget. We feared the will of the people wouldn't be heard, and there was the danger that the full budget wouldn't pass during the March election. We do a lot of work on our budget and we want a lot of people to see it. Overall, more people voted when we went to Tuesday voting."

Glenn Douglas
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