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Transparency

Open meetings, records laws are vital

If West Virginians learned one thing last year, it is that there is a lot our government does not tell us. From spending our tax dollars for lavish remodeling of Supreme Court offices — remember the $32,000 couch? — to keeping it quiet that victims of 2016 floods were not being helped because of bureaucratic inefficiency, secrets were being kept.

You know about them now in large measure because we in the press told you. Can you doubt that if reporters had not gotten hold of the two scandals cited above, they would have been swept under the rug?

Among the most important safeguards we in the Mountain State have against secrecy are open meetings and records laws and requirements that government, and sometimes the private sector, place certain public notices in newspapers. Each and every one of those protections is being eroded constantly. Government bodies ask for and get exemptions from open meetings and records laws on a regular basis. And few regular sessions of the West Virginia Legislature pass without someone suggesting the public notice requirements be watered down.

Why? Why not remind property owners who may have overlooked letters from county government that their taxes need to be paid? Why not let them know when changes in zoning rules may affect their neighborhoods? Why not give them detailed reports on how taxpayers’ money is being spent?

Why decide West Virginians should not be informed of a variety of matters that concern us? Do proponents of telling us less by allowing closed meetings, exempting government documents from disclosure and cutting down on public notices actually believe Mountain State residents will buy the claim such actions are good for us?

Those certainly are good questions, but another may get to the heart of the matter better: What are they trying to hide?

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