New Hampshire paper beats closed meeting

\nNEW HAMPSHIRE – A court could find The University of New\nHampshire’s student senate in contempt the next time the organization\nchooses to hold an unlawful closed meeting.

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

A state court approved an agreement between the university’s\nsenate and the newspaper, stating that the senate must hold open\nmeetings.

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

In mid-April, the senate denied the newspaper staff access\nto a meeting concerning university-imposed sanctions on the student\ngovernment.

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

When New Hampshire staffers contested the closed session,\na superior court judge in Strafford County issued a temporary\ninjunction, saying that the senate could not meet in closed session\nuntil the court could schedule a full hearing.

That hearing, however, never took place. McNamara said the\nnewspaper and the senate decided to negotiate out of court, although\ntheir agreement carries the force and effect of a court order.\nBoth the newspaper’s lawyer, Concord-based Joshua Gordon, and\nthe university system’s lawyer, Ronald Rodgers, agreed that the\nstate’s open meeting laws probably did not apply to the student\nsenate.

“[The senate is] not a public body under the ‘Right To\nKnow’ law,” Rodgers said, adding that he did not represent\neither side.

Nevertheless, the newspaper and the senate reached an agreement:\nno closed meetings unless personnel issues or litigation are involved,\nMcNamara said.

McNamara said he expects the senate to comply, despite the\nfact that the newspaper did not have much opportunity to test\nthe senate for compliance because school let out in May.

In the April 16 edition of The New Hampshire online,\nMolly McCarthy, last spring’s speaker of the senate, said the\norganization would try its best to comply. She added that the\nexperience gave the senate “the clarity needed to prevent\nsuch problems in the future.”\n