Open Forum: Transparency in Berryville?
Posted: October 12, 2012
Berryville readers owe Winchester Star reporter Val Van Meter much gratitude for her good story Oct. 10 about the town government’s strange six-week silence before revealing that a computer hacker thief was able to worm his or her way into the town’s own bank account and rob yet undisclosed thousands of taxpayer dollars right under the noses of our highly compensated town manager, Keith Dalton, and other officials.
No one doubts everyone’s surprise in the Berryville hierarchy, but why so long telling the folks who pay the taxes about the loss, and then refusing to fill in the details when reporter Van Meter and yours truly asked for them with impromptu questions while she was on tight deadline to file her story?
Question: “How much money was stolen?” Dalton: “I can’t tell you anything because we don’t want to compromise the investigation.”
Question: “ But that information is part of your official documentation which has to be disclosed to the public under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.” Dalton: “We don’t have to disclose anything now that the matter is under investigation by the FBI.”
Question: “What is the name of the computer system and software you have that the hacker was able to penetrate?” Dalton: “I can’t talk about that because of the ongoing FBI investigation.”
Question: “Who is your insurance company that is covering and repaying the loss?” Dalton: “I can’t say until the FBI completes its investigation. You can talk to Special Agent Justin Hastie in the Winchester FBI Office, 540-662-3531.”
And so on and so on, a complete clampdown on everything by this government manager who withheld the secret of this hacker’s successful theft from the Berryville public he is supposed to serve for nearly two months.
Your news editor captured the shoveling and filling that’s been quietly occurring behind the scenes with your “readout-quote” under the headline “FBI investigating after Berryville hit by hacker”:
“Since August, Town Manager Keith Dalton said, the town has worked closely with consultants to enhance computer security measures with new software and firewalls.”
Again at taxpayers’ expense. Better late than never. But what about government transparency and full disclosure to the public?
Since the Oct. 10 Town Council meeting, I’ve sent Mr. Dalton and Berryville Mayor Wilson Kirby a formal written appeal under the Freedom of Information Act to offer them another opportunity to obey the statute in favor of full disclosure, instead of using the FBI probe as a wicked, disingenuous bureaucratic ploy to cover up or hide anything the public has a right to know.
Or back we go again to our champion FOIA supporter on the Circuit Court for Winchester and Clarke, Judge John E. Wetsel Jr., who has given us a victory over government obduracy and improper withholding of public records before.
I’ve come to believe quite strongly that the courts remain our last best hope for the continuing survival of liberty, in forcing the executive branch to do what the people’s legislative bodies instruct them to do, most often against the government’s power-hungry will and dictatorial obsession.
George Archibald is a resident of Berryville.