Property Taxes, Constitutional Rights, and the Nashua Mayoral Race – JP

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In seeking a fifth term as mayor of Nashua, Mayor Donchess cites the city’s rankings as one of the best-managed and most livable cities in America, as well as its highest-possible municipal bond rating. These are real achievements that benefit us all, and it’s right that the mayor should take a bow for his part in them.


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I’m grateful for these significant milestones, and I applaud the mayor and others who have worked for them.

Elections are about the future, and there can be no mistake that this election will impact what it means to live in Nashua for years to come. Several major issues are on the table in Tuesday’s primary – Main Street congestion, commuter rail costs, and rising residential property taxes. But no issue trumps that of the constitutional rights of citizens.

The City has recently been rebuked in two court decisions in its Right To Know (RTK) battle against a very determined citizen who seeks to review the City’s property tax assessing standards and how they are applied. New Hampshire’s RTK Law, RSA 91-A, is embedded in the state’s constitution [Bill of Rights, Article 8]. A citizen’s constitutional rights are not dependent upon their individual priorities, politics, or personalities. The right of all citizens to access public records is carved in granite and must be respected.

Some see Laurie Ortolano as a champion for taxpayers. Others see her as a boat rocker. In the end, it does not matter – her constitutional rights are the same as yours and mine. The City has spent tens of thousands of tax dollars in its effort to avoid complying with Laurie Ortolano’s lawful RTK requests. The City’s stonewalling left her little choice but to take her case to the Superior Court, where, against the odds, she fought City Hall and won.

The prudent thing for the City to have done at that point would have been to fold up its tent and turn over the records. In so doing, the City could have shown it has nothing to hide. Instead, the City – not Laurie Ortolano – chose to take the case to the state Supreme Court. Again, Laurie Ortolano prevailed over the City, its four-term mayor, and their legal team. Without even the benefit of an attorney present in court to make her case, Laurie Ortolano was fully vindicated in a 5-0 ruling. The Supreme Court even urged remedial RTK instruction for City Hall staff.

Still, the last word was yet to come. In the recent mayoral debate, the mayor offered voters the very same excuse the City had argued unsuccessfully in court – that City Hall is simply too busy with routine tasks to uphold a citizen’s constitutional rights. The Supreme Court explicitly and unanimously rejected this specious argument after hearing testimony from multiple City employees, but it’s still the mayor’s position as he seeks a fifth term. There is no credibility to the argument that complying with Laurie Ortolano’s RTK request would be too time-consuming, while the City found time to fight the matter in court twice. The City owes Laurie Ortolano an apology and the documents and records she requested months ago not more excuses.

I have spoken up when the mayor has been blamed for “allowing” cars illegally parked on private property downtown to be towed to Pepperell, a hot topic on social media. I have pointed out that the mayor has no authority over the maintenance of the Main St. railroad tracks. I’ve discussed that despite costly construction projects, the single largest driver in the recent residential property tax spike was the historic rise in residential property values compared with commercial property values, not anything the mayor did or failed to do. Due to the bond rating and quality of life rankings, I held a mostly favorable toward the current administration and was an undecided voter in the mayoral race prior to the Superior Court ruling on the RTK case.

Every municipal official in the state takes an oath to uphold the N.H. Constitution. The Supreme Court found that the current administration, led by a mayor with 16 years in office, violated a citizen’s rights. Every Nashua voter needs to ask why the City is unwilling to disclose records related to spending and taxes. For these reasons and more, I urge a vote for a highly qualified candidate, Mike Soucy, on Tuesday, Sept. 12 to restore trust in City Hall.

 

Mark Johnson is a 24-year New Hampshire resident, including the last nine years in Ward 4, Nashua. He previously held municipal office in Hollis, including zoning board, budget committee, highway safety, historic district, and was twice elected to the Board of Selectmen, Assessors, and Overseers of the Poor (Chair, 2006-08).



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Las Vegas News Magazine

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