Freedom — September 9, 2005 — Selectman Jim Breslin violated the privacy rights of Totem Pole Park residents by reading a list of names at a public meeting of people he says registered their cars at town hall in violation of an agreement between the town and campground, charges the campground’s lawyer. Breslin denies doing anything wrong.
“As far as I’m concerned, anyone has access to that information,” Breslin said. “If people want to make a case that I did something inappropriate, I’m not buying their argument.”
Totem Pole Park, a condominium campground involved in a drawn-out dispute with the town, signed an agreement with the town last summer, agreeing that residents would neither register to vote in Freedom nor register their vehicles with the town. This agreement was made in exchange for an extension of the park’s season from six to 11 months out of the year.
The New Hampshire Attorney General a month later overturned the portion of the agreement pertaining to voter registration, claiming it violated the owners’ constitutional rights.
Since the controversial 2004 agreement was written, some town officials and citizens have voiced strong opposition, fearing that residents of the campground on Ossipee Lake will pursue status as full-time residents and eligibility for municipal services like education. Paul Corbin, president of the Totem Pole Association, has said repeatedly that the town’s fears are unfounded.
The latest justification for possibly rescinding the agreement is the alleged registration of 32 vehicles by 25 park residents. Selectman Jim Breslin, using copies of registration cards at Freedom Town Hall, compiled a list of campers who, in violation of the town-park agreement, allegedly registered their cars in Freedom and cited their Totem Pole Park address as their full-time residence.
Breslin read a letter and a list of alleged violators before the planning board at its August 18th meeting, urging the agreement’s rescission because “it has become crystal clear from the attitude of these obvious violators … that they have no intention of adhering to and honoring the agreement made with the residents of Freedom.”
But the list, which was admitted as a public document and made available to the press, apparently has a number of errors in it, based on a cursory review. At least one person listed in violation of the year-old agreement no longer lives in New Hampshire, much less at the campground.
Other errors in the list include the listing of two cars allegedly owned by Rene Cloutier. Cloutier claimed that only one of those vehicles is registered with the town; she no longer owns the second.
The list’s inaccuracies may not be the town’s biggest problem, however. Totem Pole Association’s legal representative, Patrick Wood, said the town and Breslin violated New Hampshire’s right-to-know law, outlined in RSA 91-A, by publicizing the information, which is deemed as private by state law.
“The individuals on the list could potentially bring a lawsuit against Freedom and Breslin for violating the right-to-know law,” Wood said.
“If the planning board were to use it to try and justify the agreement’s revocation, it could be subject to a lawsuit, too.”
Breslin said he believed that individuals’ vehicle registration is public information, and he denied having done anything wrong. Their “argument,” however, is based on state law.
The publication of individuals’ car registration information may also violate federal law RSA 260:14, which governs the records and certification of motor vehicles. According to this statute, “Proper motor vehicle records shall be kept by the department at its office. Notwithstanding RSA 91-A or any other provision of the law to the contrary…such records shall not be public records or open to the inspection of any person.”
As to the list’s inaccuracies, Breslin said particular circumstances — such as an individual’s move out-of-state, or so-called personal exemption from the agreement — are not his responsibility in enforcing the town’s agreement with the campsite.
But whether or not the list’s inaccuracies are even an issue in light of possible violation of RSA 91-A — or the federal Privacy Act — is up for debate. Planning board attorney John Radigan said his client has not yet asked him to research a possible violation, adding that he did not know, offhand, whether publication of the list constituted a civil offense.
Breslin was not advised by Radigan or town attorney Peter Malia before he compiled the list.
Although the Privacy Act — RSA 260:14 — stipulates that copies of motor vehicle records can be made available in response to a government or court request, Conway deputy clerk and Bartlett town clerk said that such information is absolutely not available to their town selectmen or other municipal officials.
The recent allegations against Freedom officials’ conduct and possibly illegal acquisition and publication of private information have yet to be addressed by either the town or its attorneys, and the allegations’ effects on the discussion over the revocation of the town-camp agreement have yet to be seen.
However, if the information is recognized as private, the town will not be able to use the vehicle registrations as evidence to rescind the agreement (unless the registrations are obtained through the state). If violations of the agreement cannot be proved, the agreement may stand, by default.