City files Motion to Dismiss Rochester Voice Right to Know complaint

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City Attorney Terence O'Rourke, left, and City Manager Katie Ambrose both support deligitimizing The Rochester Voice as a bona fide news entity (City of Rochester screen shot)

Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series of articles leading up to the Oct. 4 hearing at the state's Right to Know Ombudsman's Office in the case of The Rochester Voice v. City of Rochester over the city's refusal to honor digital Right to Know requests made by The Rochester Voice. The city of Rochester contends it doesn't have to comply with such requests, because Rochester Voice editor Harrison Thorp is not a New Hampshire citizen.

ROCHESTER - Rochester's city attorney has filed a Motion to Dismiss with the state's Right To Know Ombudsman's Office, stating that The Rochester Voice has no standing to file a grievance, because its editor, Harrison Thorp, lives in Maine and is not a New Hampshire citizen.
Terence O'Rourke, the city's full-time attorney, also says that "The New Hampshire Supreme Court has determined that, while a municipality is required to provide electronic records in an electronic format, it is not required to provide them by email or in any other particular format requested."
The 11-page Motion to Dismiss is dated Aug. 23 and may be discussed at a prehearing conference on Friday. The adjudicative hearing is set for Oct. 4.
As defined by the Right to Know Ombudsman Attorney Thomas F. Kehr, the central issue in this matter is "Whether the City of Rochester violated (portions of the 91-A statute) in regard to its denial of a request made to it on or about April 12, 2023, on the basis that the requestor was not a 'citizen of New Hampshire.'"
In his filing, O'Rourke refers to The Rochester Voice as a "weblog" or "blog," not a digital daily that is a member in good standing with the New Hampshire Press Association, which has awarded the digital daily 14 Distinguished Journalism awards in the past five years, including first place statewide for General Excellence-Digital Presence, Editorial Writing, Spot New photo, Feature photo, Health Reporting, General News Story and Community Service.
O'Rourke also fails to mention that The Rochester Voice is a six-year member with the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, where he serves as an ambassador and on the Raffle Bash Committee the past four years. Nor does O'Rourke mention that The Rochester Voice was honored in 2021 with being named Rochester Business of the Year. To view a video produced in conjunction with the award click here.

O'Rourke routinely complied with The Rochester Voice Right to Know requests for some five years, but on April 12 six minutes after The Rochester Voice requested a police report detailing why former City Councilor Chris Rice was trespassed from City Hall and the James W. Foley Community Center, O'Rourke sent this email:

"As you know, RSA 91-A:4, which pertains to a public bodies obligation to send records to a requestor, only applies to citizens of New Hampshire. Based on research, it is clear that you are not a citizen of New Hampshire and the "Rochester Voice" is not a citizen of New Hampshire either. Unless you can provide proof of citizenship, I will no longer be providing you with governmental records."

While O'Rourke is representing the city in this matter, it should be noted that City Manager Katie Ambrose has said she supports the city's current policy of refusing to supply The Rochester Voice with Right to Know documents due to Thorp's residency in Maine.

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