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Commissioners answer critical editorial; it’s a statewide policy

July 18, 2012

In an editorial in its Tuesday, July 10 edition, The Wayne Independent criticized the Wayne County commissioners for withholding information from the county coroner as to the cause of death of former Texas supervisor Jack McDonald, who died last week. The editorial called the commissioners’ action hypocritical, saying it deliberately intended to withhold information from the public, which has a right to know.

“Apparently, in Wayne County, they have to fill out a request and then the county would get back to them—all costing everyone needless time and money,” the editorial said. “When we asked those involved why this is the case, the coroner said it’s the county’s policy, and Vickie Botjer, chief clerk of the county, said it’s in the coroner’s rules. In other words, they are pointing the finger at each other.”

Brian Smith, chairman of the commissioners, said that “we have the obligation of following state laws in such matters. This isn’t something that is up to our whim. It’s the law—the Right-To-Know Act. There’s a procedure that has to be followed arising from Act 3 of 2008. It’s statewide.”

“We responded the next day,” said Botjer, “although we have five days to respond to this kind of request. They got the information in less than 24 hours.”

Smith added, “We will follow the law although we will be criticized by a newspaper. “If we don’t comply with the provisions of the law, we may end up in the paper criticized for something that we should not have revealed. We will end up in the paper for the wrong thing.”

Commissioner Wendell Kay reported that there had been a similar situation a few years ago. “We insisted that the law be followed and were upheld by the Right-to-Know board,” said Kay. “In addition to following the law, we must be consistent in our response. We try to do that.”