CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When government officials conceal records from the people, it always raises suspicion that they have something to hide.
Why else would leaders of the state Housing Development Fund stamp "Top Secret" on $330,000 spending for private lawyers while the mortgage agency is under federal investigation for land dealings by one of its directors, Treasurer John Perdue?
Perdue and his wife sold 11 acres in Mason County to Charleston developer Doug Pauley, a former HDF official who has gotten nearly $30 million in taxpayer loans and grants from his old agency. The HDF then gave Pauley $3.67 million in federal stimulus money to build a senior housing complex named for Perdue's late father-in-law.
When Mason commissioners refused to approve the housing, the HDF voted to revoke its rule requiring local government endorsement. Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper filed a protest saying such local approval is important. Federal agents began investigating, as reporter Eric Eyre has detailed repeatedly.
The HDF is concealing an internal report written about the Mason project -- and now it won't say why it spent $330,000 for private lawyers during the U.S. probe. Invoices showing specific legal work are being hidden.
What brazen arrogance. The people of West Virginia own the state housing agency, not the politicians and hired executives who run it. The latter have no right to hide their actions from the public.
West Virginia's Freedom of Information Act (Code 29B-1-1) says:
"Government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them. ... The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know."
Yet public servants in the Housing Development Fund have decided that West Virginians cannot know why $330,000 -- one-third of a million dollars -- was paid to private lawyers during a federal investigation, even though the agency has its own staff lawyer. What gall. It is shameful.
Various other secrecy issues pop up in West Virginia. For example, the State Police hides complaints alleging brutality and sex misconduct by troopers -- and Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey ruled last month that this concealment may continue. For example, Marshall University paid a secret settlement to football star Patrick Edwards, who broke his leg when he ran into a metal cart during a 2008 game -- even though the state Supreme Court has ruled that settlements by state units cannot be hidden.
West Virginians own all branches of state and local government, and they're entitled to know what their employees are doing.