Public Has Right To Most Records

Too much government information is kept from the public on the pretext that it is for the public’s good. Often when it finally is obtained, it turns out secrecy served officials far more than their constituents.

West Virginia Supreme Court justices were right last week when they rejected the old claim the public would be harmed by release of secret documents.

Justices ruled in a Kanawha County case involving property tax records. Local officials there had refused to release computerized documents involving mass appraisals of property. Results of such appraisals determine how high taxes are on property.

Officials claimed the documents included sensitive information, release of which could harm some people. Information cited included whether homes were vacant or were protected by burglar alarms.

Justices reached the obvious conclusion that such sensitive information could be redacted from documents released to the public and press.

Clearly, however, it is in the public’s interests – possibly saving homeowners hundreds of dollars a year – to have access to information on how their tax bills were determined. The court ordered that the bulk of appraisal documents in dispute must be released.

Good. Let’s hope the ruling is viewed as a precedent spurring government to release other records now kept secret under questionable pretexts.