News-Miner opinion: A proposal has been introduced at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly to allow for people in certain occupations to not be listed in the borough’s publicly accessible online property tax database.
The database is a highly useful tool. Therefore, any changes to it should be handled with great care.
The ordinance proposed by assembly members Matt Cooper, Andrew Gray and Angela Major defines those eligible to have their names removed as “current or retired judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, emergency medical and rescue personnel, and corrections, probation and parole officers.”
The proposal states, “Maintaining open, public access of residential and home addresses through the borough’s public-facing property database through the internet for these public servants puts their personal safety, and that of their families, at risk.”
It would apply to “properties owned or titled in their name and/or properties owned or titled in the name of their immediate family members and upon which the eligible official resides.”
The idea behind the proposal is one of genuine concern. But how many incidents have there been of the database being used to harass law enforcement or court personnel? That is something that should be established during discussion of the proposed change.
The proposed ordinance states that the information can still be requested through a public records request, but that can lead to a delay in release of the information.
While having the information available through a visit to the borough headquarters is good, could the borough improve the situation by having the database available online through an internal network only at a public computer inside the borough building? This might also allow for the cool-down period that the ordinance suggests might be beneficial but would allow the information to be available faster than through a public records request.
Another concern about starting a practice of allowing some people to request exclusion from the property tax database is that the list can grow. Where will it end?
What about a worker from the state Office of Children’s Services? These workers have difficult jobs and regularly find themselves at the center of tense and troubling family situations.
What about a sexual assault victim whose assailant doesn’t yet know where the victim lives? Will that victim be able to have his or her identifying information removed from the database?
It would seem the concern for people in those two examples would be as valid for those mentioned in the proposed ordinance.
Taking it further, what about people in private-sector jobs? Why should exclusions from the list apply just to those with public-sector jobs?
Will there be a process by which someone in the private sector can petition to have his or her name removed from the online database?
If such exemptions to publication in the online database are allowed, however, no exception should be made for publication of a delinquent taxpayer’s name in the annual list of delinquencies that the borough publishes and distributes through the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Residents should be allowed to know who among them is not paying their share of the cost of operating the borough government.
The proposed ordinance deserves a full discussion. It has been referred to the Committee of the Whole’s June 6 meeting and will be the subject of a public hearing of the full assembly on June 13.
We live in an open society and must always question efforts, no matter how well meaning, that seek to reduce the amount of information available to the public.