Shut Up And Pay: Secret Police Facility Costs Taxpayers $2 Million

Opinion

 
on July 31 2012 11:15 AM

It's like George Orwell meets the Mad Hatter. A local government board in Arizona finds nothing wrong with charging taxpayers nearly $2 million for a new police facility -- and then refusing to disclose the building's location.

True story.

City council members in Scottsdale, Ariz., have voted unanimously, 7-0, to spend $1.87 million for a new 17,827 square-foot offices for the police department's Investigative Service Bureau. At the same time, they won't disclose the address of the building. That's the Orwell, now here's the Hatter: Given the building's size and office zoning, most in the community already know where it's located.

So why is the government going through this charade of withholding public records? It's a safety thing.

"A substantial number of police undercover personnel will work out of this building. Therefore, in the interest of the safety of our officers and the integrity of future undercover investigations, the city will not disclose its precise location," Kelly Corsette, communications and public affairs director for the City of Scottsdale, explained in an email.

Sure. That makes sense, so long as logic doesn't get in the way, that is. Else one might arrive at a conclusion similar to that of one attorney schooled in Freedom of Information Act and public records law: Even federal investigative agents have public work addresses.

"Everybody knows where the CIA building is," said Dan Barr, an attorney with a Phoenix law firm who also works with the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

One could same the same about the building that serves the FBI. Or Homeland Security. Or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. But perhaps these federal entities don't deal with as sensitive security issues as Scottsdale police?

Not to mock -- but really. This is government-gone-wild at its worst.

It's bad enough when Capitol Hill politicians raid the public coffers for pork barrel projects, or special interest expenditures, or for wealth distribution schemes. It's hard enough to keep congressional lawmakers in line who work, in some cases, hundreds of miles from their constituents and who conduct business in the labyrinth of Washington, D.C. But we're talking local government body here. Scottsdale council members vote on the issues that impact the neighbors they speak with, the restaurants they eat in, the streets they drive, the schools their children attend.

They're accountable, up close and personal.

So when seven members of the local governing board, including the mayor -- who could not be reached for comment -- decide that it's perfectly sensible to take $1.87 million of taxpayer dollars and spend it on a police facility, and refuse to disclose the address of this facility, that's quite a face slap. That's a "we know best" and "trust me" philosophy of governance that runs counter to Founding Fathers or constitutional "we the people" and "of, by and for the people" principles. And given the flimsy excuse for the secrecy, more -- much more -- than just Scottsdale should be outraged.

Cheryl Chumley is a digital editor with The Washington Times' latest endeavor, www.Times247.

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