The City of Nitro has updated its public records. They’re now on papyrus instead of clay tablets.

City officials hope to have the records on parchment by 2050 and maybe even loose-leaf paper by century’s end.

Talk about progressive.

You won’t believe what the city has planned for the fourth millennium: online searchable databases! Your tax dollars at work! Nitro on the move!

Of course, the city, like many government entities, is decades behind the private sector –which will have long since moved on to something better by the time Nitro goes digital – but, still, better late than never, right?

In the meantime, city officials can continue taking advantage of their (unintentional?) backwardness to avoid the transparency that the law requires of public servants – parceling out public documents (documents that belong to the citizens who paid for them with their taxes) as slowly and incompletely as they deign to.

Thanks to a recent decision by our state Supreme Court, city officials in Nitro (and other localities) can even charge citizens for searching records compiled at taxpayer expense (ostensibly for their benefit as citizens).

The court’s 4-1 decision overturned a Kanawha Circuit Court ruling that let the City charge for photocopying but not for document search time ($25 per hour). The ruling allows government agencies statewide to charge citizens hourly fees for finding public documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Twenty-five dollars may not seem unreasonable for an hour’s worth of work, but West Virginia citizens are already paying the salaries of their public employees, aren’t they? And who believes that a ten-minute search won’t be dragged out over several hours – or days even – if public servants (or their superiors) prefer not to cooperate?

Wouldn’t the obvious solution be to put the documents online so citizens could search them any time they wanted to, free of charge, from the comfort of their own homes?

Surely our public servants have nothing to hide.




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