Couple who sued municipal government wrongdoing honored

MANCHESTER, NH (AP) – A couple from Webster, New Hampshire, who have prosecuted municipal government wrongdoing are this year’s winner of a journalism school’s First Amendment award.

Tara Gunnigle and Jon Pearson will be honored by the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications on November 9th.

Gunnigle and Pearson regularly attend some board meetings at Webster. They were at a meeting last year where the topic of the potential use of gravel from two city-owned plots was discussed. Bruce Johnson, city treasurer, said it wouldn’t happen because he bought the city’s land.

The couple filed right-to-know claims, but were told the records were either sealed, missing, or did not exist. They then searched for tax and tax records, property deeds and sealed minutes, which the board agreed to open. They eventually presented Webster Police Chief and Merrimack County District Attorney with nearly 100 pages of information.

This year, Johnson did not make any challenges in Franklin District Court to two counts of violating the “public officials excluded from certain private transactions” law for purchasing the town’s two lots while ‘he was treasurer. He was fined $ 1,200.

Johnson, who lives across the street from the property, has also resigned as treasurer. He and other city officials argued that the purchase was in the public interest because of his commitment to preserving the property and that taxes would be paid on it. He paid $ 7,000 for the two 1 1/2 acre lots, which were appraised at a combined value of $ 44,000 in 2019.


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