Man sues Monongalia Assessor for denying FOIA requests

By Kyla Asbury | Feb 9, 2011

MORGANTOWN -- A Monongalia County resident is suing the county assessor for withholding information he requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

On Dec. 9, 2010, David L. McKain, an engineer in Monongalia County, made a Freedom of Information Act request for data used by the computer-based Integrated Appraisal System to appraise residential real property in Monongalia County for the 2011 tax year, according to a complaint filed Feb. 7 in Monongalia Circuit Court.

McKain claims that because Assessor Rodney A. Pyles does not have the capacity to produce data requests, he specified that the defendant was to provide authorization to the state tax department, who maintains the IAS, to send out the electronic data and deliver it to him.

On Dec. 13, Pyles responded to McKain's request that he was refusing the request and that the 2011 data would be available until the first week of January, according to the suit.

On Jan. 6, McKain claims he submitted a second FOIA request for the data. He claims on the following day, Pyles denied the request again.

McKain had previously made two FOIA requests, one on Feb. 3, 2010, and one on Sept. 2, 2010, for data covering the 2005 through 2010 tax years from Pyles that were granted.

McKain claims Pyles indicated that he did not have the capability to produce the data and that he should direct his request to the tax department. He claims the tax department said Pyles had to authorize the data before it could be released. The data was then delivered by the tax department to McKain.

McKain still does not have the data for the 2011 tax year.

West Virginia required Pyles to complete his work of assessment for the 2011 tax year no later than Jan. 30 and submit the property books to the County Commission sitting as a Board of Review and Equalization no later than Feb. 1, according to the suit.

McKain claims the tax department notified him and told him that the 2011 tax year data would not be complete until the Board of Review began.

The plaintiff claims he is entitled to a copy of the data because it is public record and not exempted by West Virginia statutes.

Pyles failed to satisfy McKain's FOIA requests, according to the suit.

McKain said he filed the suit because the assessor has failed to increase assessments as property values have increased over the past 20 years.

"As a result, there is a significant gap," McKain said.

McKain said the assessor also did not send out 10 percent increase notices to new owners after they purchased properties.

"The notices are required by law when the assessment increases by 10 percent from one year to the next," McKain said. "I believe that the assessor was not sending out these notices in an effort to disguise the activities of his office."

McKain said he's put forth the effort to open the eyes of property owners in Monongalia County, as well as the rest of West Virginia, to how they are being served by their elected official.

"I have no financial or political interest, just a driving interest to see that the system is fair to everyone," McKain said.

"At one time, Pyles told me to 'pay my taxes and get on with my life,'" McKain said. "Firstly, I'm unaware that I haven't paid any taxes due, but this statement says a lot about how our assessor approaches his duty."

McKain is seeking for the court to grant him declaratory or injunctive relief by directing Pyles to authorize the tax department to provide him with the requested information or to enjoin the defendant from withholding authorization and for the court to initiate proceedings against the defendant for willfully violating the provisions of West Virginia Code. McKain is representing himself.

Monongalia Circuit Court case number: 11-C-77

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