(02/04/2005)
By Bob Weaver

GUARDING THE HEN HOUSE

Governor Joe Manchin is promising "they'll fix it" - the controversial language in the legislature's new ethics bill.

Manchin did not request the unusual language.

Manchin says he will sign the bill into law, but correcting the gag-order will be a first order of business.

Legislators put a gag order in the bill, which would have prevented any person filing an ethics complaint from talking about it publicly to be fined up to $5000.

The gag order is unconstitutional.

State legislators, who have had more than ample control of the Ethics Commission, have a hard time operating in the public interest.

In the Mezzatesta case, the Ethics Commission rejected complaints lodged against the powerful House of Delegates member, and there was more than ample stonewalling.

This was supposed to have been fixed by new legislation, expanding the role of the commission and requiring it to operate better in the public interest.

The failure of the West Virginia State Police guarding their own hen-house with its Internal Review has lead them down a road from which they destruct, declining an independent review board which would bring clarity and validation to the agency.

"CALL CHARLESTON"

The issue of Gov. Manchin telling his department heads not to talk with the media without talking to his office is still swirling.

Lara Ramsburg, the governor's chief communications person, says the edict makes good sense, and that it should not affect agency heads who "want to give factual information" upon request.

West Virginia University did a study about four years ago regarding compliance to the Freedom of Information Act. The results were more than disappointing, from state agencies to county court houses and school boards.

There is a laundry list of agencies with which the Herald has had negative experiences, trying to obtain what seemed like basic information.

Obtaining information about road projects scheduled for the county is no longer a simple matter. You could call the local Department of Highways and they would glady provide it. Now, its call Charleston.

It would seem logical to believe, when the governor of the state assumes such control of information, the culture of government will get even worse than it is now - unresponsive or slow, take your pick.

Locking down information has become a top priority of the federal government, so why not here at the Mouth of the Elk?


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