Winter's far from over. But, if you're like us, you're already thinking about spring, the warm weather to come and that first picnic in the park with the family.

Imagine pulling up to a park entrance with the car chock-full of kids, charcoal and chops -– only to be told by someone in khaki shorts and a funny hat that you can't use the park.

"Excuse me," you might say, "but I believe this is a public park, and we're the public."

Or maybe you're turned away at the library or refused admittance to a meeting at city hall.

Again, you'd be outraged. Public facilities are paid for with your tax dollars. They belong to you.

This is pretty much the reaction Jay Lawrence Smith had when he was denied access to public records relating to a lawsuit against the office of Gilmer County Clerk Jean Butcher.

Smith is not only a member of the public. He's also a freelance journalist who contributes regularly to The West Virginia Record. He has the right to review public records on his own behalf -- and on behalf of our readers, who are also members of the public.

Smith knows his rights as a citizen and a journalist and doesn't hesitate to assert them.

Invoking the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Smith sent three requests for information on the lawsuit settlement to the County Clerk and the Gilmer County Commission. He has received no response from either.

Smith now has filed an FOIA suit in Gilmer Circuit Court, asking that Butcher and the Commission be ordered to release the public information he seeks.

He is also asking for a permanent injunction requiring Butcher and the Commission "to undergo training for better understanding of [the FOIA law] and implement a plan for more timely responses to FOIA requests."

We hope the judge issues that injunction. Public servants have to learn what "public" means – and "servant," too, for that matter.

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