Secrecy in Henderson

CORRECTION -- 02/16/12 -- An editorial in Wednesday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal incorrectly characterized the city of Henderson’s response to a videotaped police altercation with a motorist that led to a recent financial settlement. In fact, the city did release the names of all the officers involved.

Apparently, the concept of open government doesn't resonate down at Henderson City Hall.

Less than two weeks after the city refused to reveal the names of all the Henderson police officers involved in a videotaped beating that cost taxpayers more than a quarter-million dollars, a spokeswoman on Monday said officials there won't release the tape of a 911 call made from the home of a former city councilwoman involved in a local scandal.

The fig leaf?

"The release of the content of the 911 tape, containing private medical information, serves no genuine public interest," said Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards, arguing that making the tape public would violate federal laws concerning medical privacy, as well.

Ms. Vermillion is being investigated for potentially misusing the funds of a youth charity she founded a decade ago. She resigned from the City Council amid the allegations. The 911 call was apparently made by her 15-year-old daughter and involves a possible suicide attempt. Ms. Vermillion was hospitalized earlier this month.

Whether the call contains anything of "genuine public interest" is not for city officials to decide. Use of such an arbitrary standard elevates secrecy and bureaucratic whim above vital tenets such as openness and transparency.

The notion that releasing the call would violate federal statutes regarding health care privacy is pure and unadulterated poppycock.

Neither the 911 operator nor the city is a health care provider, no matter how officials seek to twist federal law. In addition, a person volunteering information in a 911 call is doing so in a public forum, not some confidential setting.

Henderson officials have reached a faulty conclusion. They should release the tape. Then they should sign up for a basic course on good government and open records.