Newspaper Wins Access To Public Comments

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A Morgantown newspaper has won unrestricted access to nearly 3,600 public comments on a countywide smoking ban proposed for Monongalia County.

Monongalia County Circuit Judge Robert Stone ruled in favor of The Dominion Post on Wednesday.

The newspaper had filed a complaint against the county Board of Health last week after the board refused to release the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the people who made the comments.

Phil Magro, an assistant county prosecutor who represented the board, asked Stone to bar access to the letters in their entirety. He argued that the comments were protected under a Freedom of Information Act exemption that restricts internal memoranda or letters received or prepared by any public body from public disclosure.

But Stone disagreed, saying citizens who write to a government official concerning a public issue lose their expectation of confidentiality.

Dominion Post Editor Geri Ferrara said that while the newspaper was confident the letters were public records, it’s reassuring to have that stance backed by law.

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