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County accused of breaking information law

July 08, 1999

BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A citizen's group opposed to Berkeley County's 911 road renaming process has filed a criminal complaint against the Berkeley County Commission.

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Common Sense 911 claims the county has "willfully stalled and delayed" the group's efforts to obtain information on the address change process through Freedom of Information Act requests, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Common Sense group.

The complaint was filed last week with Martinsburg City Police, which referred the matter to Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely, Martinsburg Police Chief Ted Anderson said.

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"All I can say at this point is it's under investigation," Games-Neely said Wednesday.

A provision in the West Virginia Code allows a criminal complaint to be filed against any custodians of public records who willfully violate provisions of the state's Freedom of Information Act.

A conviction on the misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 days in county jail and a $500 fine, according to the code.

The attorney for the Berkeley County Commission said the criminal complaint is a waste of taxpayer money.

"They're just trying to harass the county because they didn't get what they want," Norwood Bentley said.

Berkeley County Commission President D. Wayne Dunham could not be reached for comment.

Berkeley County Circuit Judge David Sanders earlier this year dismissed a civil suit that Common Sense had filed in an attempt to stop the county from changing street names as part of a new 911 emergency system.

Common Sense claims an appeal of Sanders' decision would have been costly, so the group opted instead to file Freedom of Information Act requests, according to the Common Sense release.

The group claims the information gathered through the requests has "proven the major points of our civil case," but alleges the "custodians of the records sought to engage in illegal tactics under the Freedom of Information Act," according to the release.

Bentley denied the charge and said the county has complied with the "14 or 15" FOI Act requests filed by the group.

Bentley said the county would fight any criminal charges if warrants are issued for the County Commissioners.

"I don't think that group really knows what they're doing," Bentley said.

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