City critic gets trial date

Published 10:46 pm Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Judge James A. Moore set a trial date in the matter of a city critic who is taking the city to court.

Christopher Dove has filed writs of mandamus or injunction in an attempt to force the city to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

He says the city has ignored a requirement to reconvene immediately in an open meeting after a closed meeting, refused to show him a document that should be open for inspection and delayed providing documents until the statutory five-day limit had almost expired.

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Moore, who announced at the beginning of the docket he would not hear any contested cases on Wednesday, set the trial for Sept. 4 at 9 a.m. He also ordered Dove to file a bill of particulars — a summary of his evidence — to which the city will file its grounds of defense.

Moore set the trial so that Judge Alfred Bates, formerly with the city attorney’s office in Portsmouth, can hear the case.

“Trust me, you would not want me hearing this case,” Moore said, adding Bates is “extremely familiar with the nuances of FOIA.”

Moore added that the exchange of documents “might well clear it all up and resolve it ahead of time.”

Records Dove obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show the City Council has obeyed the requirement to reconvene in an open meeting immediately after a closed meeting only seven times since June 17, 2009. It has delayed doing so on 80 occasions in the same time span.

Dove also says Planning and Community Development Department members refused to show him the plat for the Foxfield Meadows development near his home, and that the Freedom of Information Act office waits five days before providing documents it already has.

“I want a judge to tell me whether I’m wrong, because the evidence shows I’m right,” Dove said. “If we can’t rely on the city, the ones that enforce the law, to follow the law, then there is no law.”