Health center causes unneeded delays, expense for county

By John Peters

July 24, 2013

The Surry County Health and Nutrition Center still seems, for some reason, to be holding the public at arm’s distance, hiding behind unnecessary — and we suspect expensive —bureaucracy.

The latest incarnation of this is a Freedom of Information request by Mayberry4Paws. That organization requested some data regarding animals at the shelter, intake and outtake numbers, and the like.

Mayberry4Paws wanted the information for a grant application, hoping to get some money to help with spay and neuter programs in Surry County, and to show the effectiveness of previous grants the organization had received.

State law requires the health center to maintain the information requested, and at least two attorneys told The Mount Airy News the information requested should have been readily available, even without a formal Freedom of Information request.

Other departments in the county are open with similar types of information, yet the health center routinely requires written requests for information that should be at officials’ fingertips, and then refuses to release the information until the county attorney has reviewed it.

This is not the first time the health center has proven difficult to work with, particularly in regards to the county animal shelter. It wasn’t too long ago when the shelter attracted unwanted headlines because of its unusually high kill rate of animals, yet the department seemed determined to turn away every offer of help from community groups.

Now, the department is doing it again, and we have to ask why? Why is the health department so secretive when most county agencies are open and helpful to the public? How much money has that department cost county taxpayers by needlessly running routine requests through the county attorney’s office? And how much longer will the commissioners let this continue?