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EDITORIAL: Something to hide?

On Wednesday we praised Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya for moving to digitalize all her office’s records dating to 1909, noting the importance of public access to government documents.

“Accountability demands that such records be open and available to those who seek to review them,” we wrote, adding that, “Unfortunately, too many government agencies and bureaucrats reflexively take the opposite approach, withholding information until specifically ordered to provide it.”

As if on cue, here comes the city of Henderson.

Back in March, Henderson officials entered a $30.000 one-year contract with Trosper Communications even though the city already has plenty of PR people on staff. Turns out the company’s owner, Elizabeth Trosper, had previously worked on the political campaigns of Henderson City Council members.

To unearth more details on this cozy arrangement, the Review-Journal in October requested city documents related to the role of the communications consultant. Predictably, city officials demurred and deflected. On Tuesday, the newspaper filed a lawsuit arguing that Henderson is in violation of the state’s public records law and is also trying to charge illegal fees for compiling the information.

City spokesman David Cherry said this week that his bosses would not comment on the matter. That’s not surprising, given that Henderson leaders have long had a well-deserved reputation for provincialism and insularity.

A response from the city to the original request noted that finding the relevant records could take three weeks and that officials were “in the process of searching for and gathering responsive emails and other documents.” But the response also cited the need to comb through the records for “privilege and confidentiality.” Henderson estimated that such a review would cost $6,000 and demanded the R-J put down a deposit of almost $3,000 before the city would resume the assessment.

Whoever is offering legal advice to the city might want to brush up on the Nevada Revised Statutes lest Henderson taxpayers get stuck with the bill for the city’s intransigence.

“The fee Henderson is demanding isn’t even permitted under Nevada law,” said attorney Maggie McLetchie, who is representing the newspaper in the suit. “The city has an obligation under law to respond to requests and shouldn’t be demanding a ransom to comply with its duties.”

The fact that Henderson officials would go to this much trouble to discourage and hinder a relatively innocuous public records request can only raise suspicions about what they’re so eager to conceal down on Water Street.

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