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Blog: wvpress extra — Always stand for the public’s right to know

A blog by WVPA Executive Director Don Smith:

March 28, 2014:

The Freedom of Information Act battle brewing between the The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register newspapers and the Ohio County Sheriff  is one every newspaper editor in the nation should watch.

Look at the Columbia Journalism Review’s story on the situation surrounding information on concealed weapons permits. Be sure to also read the previous story about the situation in North Carolina. While Wheeling seems a local fight, I fear, as the CJR’s two stories show, there are organizational roots running back to a supportive and powerful gun lobby that wants all such information confidential.

“Ironically, from the WVPA point of view, the efforts by The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register newspapers and the reaction and refusal of Ohio County Sheriff Patrick Butler to honor a FOIA request serve as shining examples of why government records should remain open and available to the public and the press.

The Intelligencer has been serving the people of Wheeling and the Northern Panhandle for more than 160 years. Residents of the Northern Panhandle depend on The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, editor Mike Myer and his staff to monitor the actions of local government in the Ohio Valley. From the actions of city councils to school boards to county sheriffs, members of those communities count on their local newspaper to monitor government activities and keep the public informed.

Residents should be alarmed when a county sheriff decides he can violate state code, ignore a FIOA request and decide what is legal, which laws he will obey and what the public should know. When Sheriff Butler decided not to obey or enforce state code 29B-1-1, he set himself above the law.  Unfortunately, that is all too common in history of elected officials in West Virginia.

In State Code, under the Freedom of Information Act, there is a ‘Declaration of Policy.’ Clearly, such actions as Sheriff Butler’s decision were considered when that section of state code was written: “… 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. …”

As many editors around West Virginia have stated, this is not a gun issue, it’s about the First Amendment rights of West Virginians.

To see comments from West Virginia editors, search ‘concealed weapons’ on the home page.

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