2017-06-17 / Front Page

Newport resident takes school district to court


NEWPORT — Round one of allegations by Newport resident Bert Spaulding Sr. that the Newport School District was in violation of properly following New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know Law was recessed Friday after nearly two-and-a-half hours of debate.

The hearing was tentatively continued to Friday, June 29, to allow Spaulding time to respond in person or in writing to testimony of SAU 43 Superintendent Cindy Gallagher during the 90-plus minutes she was on the witness stand being questioned by Spaulding.

“This doesn’t finish anything until the judge makes his decision,” Spaulding said following the hearing.

Spaulding agreed with Judge Brian Tucker’s decision to continue the hearing by 10 days allowing him time to prepare his presentation.

“We could kick the can down the road and that is something I don’t want to do,” Spaulding said.

“It was hard being a witness and being limited in explanations leaving part of the story untold,” Gallagher said.

On May 23, Spaulding filed a five-part petition in Sullivan County Superior Court alleging that Gallagher and Newport School Board members Linda Wadensten, chair, and Virginia Irwin, vice chair, along with Tim Renner and Ann Spencer were in violation of the law on four different occasions leading up the annual Newport School District Meeting on March 14 and a fifth count following that session.

The five counts included lack of notice, late/incomplete/misleading, time and place not lawfully posted, minutes non-compliant, and unlawful meeting.

Spaulding grilled Gallagher with question after question at the Friday morning session. None of the school board members in attendance, Wadensten, Renner and Spencer, were called to the stand to testify.

“Board members are ultimately responsible for following the Right-to-Know Law,” Spaulding said.

During testimony Spaulding alleged there were improperly noticed meetings posted on the school district’s website and other locations in the community.

“I assume the superintendent communicates with the chairperson,” Spaulding continued.

Tucker said it is up to the judge to determine if the school district was in violation of the Right-to-Know Law.

Spaulding supported several of his allegations with paperwork that became exhibits during the hearing. Attorney Alison M. Minutelli of the law firm of Wadleigh, Starr and Peters of Manchester, represented the school district.

During the course of the session Minutelli objected to some of Spaulding’s comments and her objections were upheld by Tucker.

“Today, the question is did the school district follow the law?” Tucker said as testimony went on.

Spaulding testified it was his belief that receiving some information months after it was requested was a “misjustice to the voting public.”

“Did you get the records you asked for?” Tucker asked.

“They were not timely, the law was broken and that’s why we’re here,” Spaulding replied.

Several requests for information by Spaulding were made during meetings of the Newport School Board.

Tucker said requests for information under the Right-to-Know law should be made during normal business hours at the place of business involved.

“You have to do that,” he continued.

During his testimony, Spaulding said he was trying to get to the framework that Gallagher clearly understood the dates for his Right-to-Know requests.

At one point he asked Gallagher if she understood his request for cost item information.

“Obviously not,” the superintendent replied. “I gave you what I believed you asked for.”

Spaulding said documentation provided to him by the school district that was incorrect was corrected in June.

“It had an error,” Gallagher responded.

“The point was you got documents that were incorrect and did not comply with your request. They were not accurate?” Tucker asked Spaulding.

“Yes.” Spaulding responded.

Spaulding said corrected paperwork he received from the school district indicated the original information involved a mistake or error totaling $70,132.

Spaulding also focused on information contained on postings of meetings at Newport locations and on the school’s website.

Who is responsible in the end on the posting?” he asked Gallagher.

“The superintendent is ultimately responsible,” she stated.

“If somebody saw that ‘fake’ news he was improperly informed,” Spaulding said.

At that point, Tucker called for a five-minute break shortly after 10 a.m. He looked at Spaulding, smiled, and suggested he wrap things up soon.

Later in the hearing the judge told Spaulding he didn’t want him to call another witness to say the same thing that had already been stated by Gallagher.

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