Shine a light on critical report: Public records and Oxford's hill
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jul 09, 2009 | 2910 views |  2 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Keeping public records from the public is a reprehensible action. We expect better from our cities, universities and state agencies. As public entities, they should know the law, and they should follow it.

At the heart of this discussion is a University of Alabama report on the Native American stone mound and hill in Oxford, which is being mined for fill dirt for a construction project. People with knowledge of the report say that it found artifacts, but not human remains, on the hill. An archaeologist with the Alabama Historical Commission has nevertheless raised questions about how the university conducted its research for the report.

That report is a public document; it's also an invaluable part of the saga of the Native American stone mound in Oxford. Thus far, however, The Star has not received a copy of the report, despite filing three separate public-records requests — one with the city of Oxford, one with the University of Alabama, and one with the historical commission.

Commendations may be due to the commission, which told The Star on Wednesday that it had placed a copy of the report in the mail, though The Star may not receive it for days. Still, it's good that the historical commission seems to acknowledge the necessity of releasing public records.

We wish that were the case elsewhere.

The city of Oxford has refused to provide the report to The Star, which would represent a blatant disregard for the release of public documents if the city indeed has a copy of the report. One would think that Oxford Mayor Leon Smith and City Project Manager Fred Denney would be eager to have that report's contents publicized since it may bolster their thus-far unfounded claim that Native Americans used the hill to send smoke signals, not to bury their dead.

Oxford's City Hall should not act like a guarded clan that doles out morsels of information to its residents only when it sees fit. It's a horrible way to conduct city business.

Perhaps the most egregious example is coming from Tuscaloosa, where university officials have told The Star that confidentiality concerns are behind their refusal to release a copy of the report. That excuse isn't flimsy; it's laughable.

University research is invaluable to academia; it's also one of the twin cornerstones of a university's role. To conduct valuable research, produce a report on the findings and refuse to use that information for the greater good — the possible preservation of Native American artifacts — is unbecoming for such an institution.

The clock is ticking on Oxford's stone mound and the hill that Native Americans say is sacred land. If they are destroyed while valuable information is suppressed, it won't be merely a shame. It'll be a humiliation and embarrassment to all involved.
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