After losing first court battle, NH student senate agrees to open meetings

NEW HAMPSHIRE – A court could find TheUniversity of New Hampshire’s student senate in contempt thenext time the organization chooses to hold an unlawful closedmeeting.

But Sean McNamara, editor in chief of the student newspaper, TheNew Hampshire, hopes that will not be a problem.

A state court approved an agreement between the senate and thenewspaper, stating that the senate must hold open meetings.

“The senate seems happy about [the decision],” McNamarasaid, adding that it is willing to cooperate.

In mid-April, the senate denied the newspaper staff access toa meeting concerning university-imposed sanctions on it.

The sanctions stemmed from a previous open senate meeting in January,where two senate members were drinking rum-and-Cokes.

When New Hampshire staffers contested the closed session, a superiorcourt judge in Strafford County issued a temporary injunction,saying that the senate could not meet in closed session untilthe court could schedule a full hearing.

That hearing, however, never took place. McNamara said the newspaperand the senate decided to negotiate out of court, though theiragreement carries the force and effect of a court order. Boththe newspaper’s lawyer, Concord-based Joshua Gordon, and the universitysystem lawyer, Ronald Rodgers, agreed that the state’s open meetinglaws probably did not apply to the student senate.

“[The senate is] not a public body under the ‘Right To Know’law,” Rodgers said, adding that he did not represent eitherside in the case.

Nevertheless, the newspaper and the senate reached an agreement:no closed meetings, unless personnel issues or litigation wereinvolved, McNamara said.

McNamara said he expects the senate to comply, despite the factthat the newspaper has not had much opportunity to test the senatefor compliance since school let out in May.

In the April 16 edition of TheNew Hampshire Online, Molly McCarthy, the spring speakerof the senate, said the organization would try its best to comply.She added that the experience gave the senate “the clarityneeded to prevent such problems in the future.”