Why does City Hall hide behind locked doors?  - By Patricia Hammond

Why does City Hall hide behind locked doors? - By Patricia Hammond

Why does City Hall hide behind locked doors?  - By Patricia Hammond

Why does City Hall hide behind locked doors?

The short answer is they don’t.

Yes, many city departments are out of public view, but they’re not hiding.

I understand how it can look that way.

Some departments, especially those that perform mundane tasks, don’t have public spaces.

Employees come and go through a locked door, and there isn’t anyone out front to greet visitors.

It’s frustrating, especially if you’re not sure who you need to talk to, but they’re not hiding.

So why are they out of sight?

There are two reasons so many city hall employees are out of public view.

  1. Security
  2. Space

You’d be surprised how many angry people visit City Hall.

Most are happy to vent their frustrations and go home, but there is always a chance that someone will want to do violence.

The City of Nashua is responsible for the safety of its workers and the public records in its care. The most effective way to keep people safe is to put them behind a locked door.

The other reason is that many departments don’t have a public reception area is because City Hall is a finite space.

While every department is essential to running the city, they don’t all do activities that invite a lot of foot traffic.

High contact departments such as the Tax Collector and City Clerk’s offices have public facing spaces where staff can help people.

Departments like Information Technology and Financial Services don’t.

Twenty years ago, they would have had a receptionist or someone to field calls and direct questions to the right person. Today, automated phone systems and the city's website make it easy to connect with employees and find the information you need.

If you need something that’s not listed, you can always call, email, or drop in.

You may have to ring a doorbell if you stop by without an appointment, but someone will answer.

If you’re not sure who to talk to, or which department handles what you need, check with the City Clerk’s office.

My experience has always been that the City Clerk’s department has a handle on who does what throughout the city.

They may not know the exact person, but they can usually tell you which department and give you the name of a contact person who can help.

But what if they really are dodging me?

City Hall is just like any other business. Every person and department has their own responsibilities. It’s possible that the person you’re speaking with doesn’t know, or doesn’t have access to the information you need.

If you are in the right place and talking to the right person, you may need to ask for a supervisor.

Some information is sensitive and there may be a legal reason they can’t release it.

It’s also possible there isn’t an easy way to access the information.

If the information is something that should be available to the public, try speaking with your alderman.

It’s not right, but aldermanic requests carry a lot more weight than those from the general public.

In the unlikely event that you’re still not getting satisfaction, you can always file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

New Hampshire RSA 91-A provides specific guidelines for submitting right-to-know requests.

The benefit of this is that it forces the department to respond within 5 days.

You may not get the information you requested, but they will respond within 5 days with an explanation of why they denied your request.

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