Reinforce public’s right to information

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia has very strict open government laws regarding both public documents and meetings of public bodies ranging from city councils to state agencies.

But too often public officials benefit from loopholes in the statutes. And too often, public officials simply refuse to release documents because they don’t want to do so.

On Monday, House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, provided an excellent example of a document withheld for all the wrong reasons. Armstead was one member of a panel discussing the issue during the annual Legislative Lookahead program sponsored by the Associated Press in Charleston.

One agency refused to comply with a request for release of documents because doing so would be “embarrassing,” Armstead said. Clearly, he added, that is not an acceptable reason for withholding information from the public.

State law already makes the public’s right to know about government clear. It states, “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.”

Perhaps state legislators should reinforce that point. Clearly, some government officials just don’t get it yet.

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