Boos & Applause

In honor of March 12-18 being Sunshine Week, an annual nationwide celebration, The Inter-Mountain is weighing in on some local issues involving the public’s access to governmental information.

Applause to J.C. Raffety, interim chief of the Elkins Police Department, and his officers for making a concerted effort to improve communication and transparency, and for getting out into the community to speak with local residents. Raffety said this week that “I believe we’ve taken steps in the last several months to reconnect and to establish with those that questioned the integrity of the department and its officers that we are operating under the rule of law.”

Boo to local law enforcement agency representatives who have hindered the public’s and the media’s access to information about arrests and police activity in the recent past. Considering the public and the press to be enemies who need to be kept “out of the loop” is a common — but serious — mistake and does nothing to improve a department’s reputation or effectiveness.

Applause to departing Elkins City Councilman Rhett Dusenbury, who, during his last meeting as a city official Thursday, said local officials need to be more open. Dusenbury noted this is Sunshine Week, and stressed how important it is for local government to be accountable to the taxpayers who fund it.

Applause to the cooperative and knowledgeable employees in the county clerks’ offices and sheriff’s departments in Randolph, Barbour, Upshur and Tucker counties who responded correctly to requests for public information during The Inter-Mountain’s audit of compliance to open-records laws this week. Several of the employees went above the call in being friendly and helpful when presented with requests for public information.

Boo, unfortunately, to several public employees in those same offices who were uncooperative, unknowledgeable and, in at least one case, intimidating in their responses to the audit’s public information requests this week. Upshur County Sheriff David Coffman took one auditor — a college-age woman — into his office, had her sit down and then questioned her at length about why she wanted the public records. He asked her where she lived and then insinuated she was lying to him. Coffman eventually provided the records but first had all the names of the officers involved “whited out” so they were unreadable. We believe Coffman’s response was unprofessional and raises questions about how he views — and how much he respects — local residents and their right to public information. The Inter-Mountain has performed similar audits in the past, but it has been several years since the last one. Only four of the eight public records requested this week were provided. Based on the apparent lack of knowledge about public records shown by some of the public employees we encountered this week, perhaps we shouldn’t wait so long to perform the next audit.