Our opinion: Pencils down, please
When the Times Observer submitted a right-to-know request to the Warren County Board of Assessment Appeals for any documentation of the process that resulted in the board’s decision to deny tax-exempt status to a number of county entities, we expected at least something in return.
Our request cast a wide net, asking for “all documentation including minutes, written and electronic communications provided to and created as a result of the Board of Assessment Appeal’s determination of tax exempt status for Warren General Hospital, Rouse Estate/Home, Warren YMCA, Crary Home, Warren County Memorial Park, and Calvary Chapel as well as a record of the vote in each case.”
We were certain there would be at least some cryptic meeting notes, some notation of a vote of the board, even documentation that a meeting on the subject was actually held. We were certain someone must have written something down that could be considered a record of the proceeding.
What we got in response was this: “With regards to your right to know request there is no documentation in our midst that you are requesting.”
According to the county’s solicitor, the Board of Assessment Appeals is not required to keep minutes of gatherings dealing with the matters presented in this instance, and so, did not.
We will allow that the solicitor knows the law and that the board was well within it during its work on the tax-exempt status of the entities we named in our request.
However, wouldn’t a reasonable person expect at least some documentation? As we asked questions to county officials about how and why the Board of Assessment Appeals embarked on its mission, it became clear that the county commissioners may have “suggested it,” not ordered it, mind you, but suggested. As Commissioner John Eggleston pointed out, the commissioners don’t “tell” the Assessment Board what to do.
Some documentation of the proceedings could give insight, not just to the public, but to the entities most directly impacted about the criteria used in the decisions.
Finally, one might think that an action resulting in millions of dollars of additional tax obligations by six agencies not previously taxed would be important enough for someone to keep some official records.
Apparently, one would be mistaken.