A trusting commission?

Dear Editor:

The following is West Virginia Code, Chapter 29B: Freedom of Information, taken from the WV FOI Act:

Declaration of Policy: Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government which holds to the principle that government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them, it is hereby declared to be the public policy of the state of West Virginia that all persons are, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments of government they have created. To that end, the provisions of this article shall be liberally construed with the view of carrying out the above declaration of public policy.

The law goes on to state that all requested documents must be delivered within five business days.

This is how the Hancock County Commission responded to my WV FOI request, dated Aug. 18.

I hand delivered a WV FOI Request to Commission President Mike Swartzmiller. The request asks for eight specific sets of documents. Even though the state statute mandates you provide copies of the public records requested within five business day, it took the Commission 4.5 business days to even acknowledge the request.

After several letters back-and-forth, we agreed to a request completion by Sept. 2. On Sept. 2, they provided me a stack of 591 pages. They also provided a letter stating “The request is now at an end. As this request was denied in part, you may institute proceeding for injunctive or declaratory relief in the Circuit Court.” In other words, they are telling me to take them to the Circuit Court to find out what they didn’t give me and why.  Is this government transparency?

I did notice some obvious items that were missing, such as any documents related to the appointment of the “acting Shelter Director,” any communications between the acting director and anyone in the commission office, and any expenses being paid from the Animal Shelter Excess Levy Account.

They refuse to tell the public why they assumed operation of the county animal shelter. They make false statements to the public in the media and at their commission meetings.

Now, they refuse to provide public documents mandated by the WV FOI Act.

Why are they not being transparent with the taxpayers of Hancock County?

Is this how a County Commission builds public trust?

Rudy Rosnick