This is what things are coming to. Taxpayers don’t have a right to public records, don’t have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent, and attempts by taxpayers to find out this information is considered a form of harassment. This is usually because the government is covering up some type of corruption. Let’s use their own sort of logic against them: If you’ve got nothing to hide then why do you care if we see what you’re doing?
A handful of taxpayers in a small community north of Wickenburg, Arizona are being targeted by the local school district in a lawsuit that asks a judge to declare they have no right to request public records, sue the district, or complain to outside agencies.
The Congress Elementary School District claims that past efforts by these residents to obtain documents such as minutes of board meetings and spending reports amount to harassment that should not have to be tolerated.
But Jean Warren, one of the four defendants named in the lawsuit filed January 28, 2010, said the complaint is an illegal attempt to silence citizens who have questioned the district’s policies and spending practices.
“The whole thing is based on trying to shut us down so that nobody has any rights,” Warren said. “Just because you live in a small area does not mean you don’t have rights. Everything I believe about the Constitution and what it means to be a citizen of the USA is being shot down.”
The school district has a history of violating state laws mandating government transparency, according to investigations dating to 2002 done by the Arizona attorney general and state ombudsman. In 2002 and again in 2007, the district was found to be in violation of the state’s open meeting law by the Attorney General’s Office. In June 2009, the state ombudsman’s office admonished the district for its slow response to public records requests.
Liz Hill, the assistant state ombudsman for public access, told the Goldwater Institute she is not aware of any other instance in which a government agency has filed a court action seeking to block citizens from even requesting public records that should otherwise be available. It is something that frustrated government officials have talked about, but to her knowledge none has ever followed through, said Hill, who did not want to comment on whether the district’s lawsuit is justified.
“There’s a lot of talk about entities going and getting injunctions or other kinds of protective orders not to have to respond to certain individuals or certain requests,” Hill said. “But I haven’t actually been aware of any specific case, just more the theory of it. This is the first time I’ve actually seen someone go and attempt to do it.”