Restore full search access to county tax info

The decision to eliminate the search-by-name function won’t make anybody safer, but it will make access to public information more difficult.

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Walla Walla County’s TaxSifter property search engine on the Internet has been an excellent service. It has allowed citizens to easily and quickly access public information regarding property taxes and ownership.

But the service is no longer user friendly nor as helpful. County Treasurer Gordon Heimbigner decided this week not to allow searches by name.

The reason cited for the decision, although certainly well meaning, is not a credible.

Heimbigner said the search-by-name function was disabled because two law enforcement officials — one in Colorado, the other in Texas — were recently murdered in their homes. There is no indication that a TaxSifter program or any other government-based database was used to get the addresses of the victims.

Without a doubt the murder of law enforcement officers — or, frankly, anybody — in their homes or anywhere else is horrific. Reasonable steps should always be taken to prevent murders.

What Heimbigner has done won’t make anybody safer, but it will create hassles for citizens seeking information. After all, the information is still — as it should be — public information. And searches by name can still be obtained if someone were to call or visit the Treasurer’s or Auditor’s offices.

If people are plotting murders of law enforcement officials wouldn’t they simply call, or have someone call for them (to throw police off the trail), a county office to get the address? Even if they don’t call the county, the information might available from other sources on the Internet (Facebook) or in directories (such as the phone book).

Heimbigner’s decision was a result of a question posed by county Undersheriff Edward Freyer to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. He asked, in the wake of the murders, about protecting law enforcement officials from having their home addresses made public. Freyer said he did not specifically request the search by name function be disabled.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesse Nolte then sent an email to Heimbigner on the subject.

“After consulting with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office we decided to turn off the search by name function,” Heimbigner said.

The decision curbs the people’s access to their information. It might violate state law regarding public records. Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle is now researching the matter.

If specific threats to a law enforcement officer’s life or an entire agency are known — two big IFs — a narrow, focused effort to limit access of an address could be taken through a court order.

Regardless of the legality of curbing access to TaxSifter, we would hope Heimbigner would rethink his decision. It is the public, the taxpayers, who have lost in having access to the information curbed.

Comments

mlb 1 year ago

I don't see what the problem is. I went into the program this morning and was able to pull up what I needed just like before. I never did use a "search by name". (Didn't know there was a way to do that.) This is a very helpful tool and I am so glad that we can still use it.

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writewinger 1 year ago

I fully agree with the position and views expressed by the U-B Editorial Board. This was just another knee jerk action/reaction that will accomplish nothing other than to make it more difficult for those desiring to access public information. There is no apparent evidence that the most recent violence against public officials had anything to do with the availability of public records such as their home addresses and in fact the most recent shooting of a Sheriff in West Virginia occurred while he was sitting in his marked vehicle eating lunch. Unfortunately, those who choose to do harm to others whether they be law enforcement/public officials or the general public will find a way and hindering access to public records will not stop them. It is pretty similar to the efforts to pass more gun laws to stop gun violence. It won't make a difference! I strongly encourage Mr. Heimbigner, Mr. Nagle and the County Commissioners to reconsider this action.

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ImJustSayin 1 year ago

Why do you need to know where people live? Do you want prison inmates knowing where you live? If you're a judge or prosecuting attorney, do you want the bad guys you have put away knowing where you live? If you're a cop, do you want gang bangers coming by your house? I can go on and on. If you want to know something specific about a property, you will know the address and can enter that info. The UB needs to get off non-issues and try some real reporting for a change.

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kurtfr 1 year ago

I think if judges, attorneys & cops just have guns, they don't have anything to worry about, right?

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ImJustSayin 1 year ago

Go ride your bike hippy

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drazan 1 year ago

Yes, please reinstate the "search by name" function on this most important local database. It is an extremely useful tool for historians and genealogists.

Joe Drazan http://wallawalladrazanphotos.blogspot.com/

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