Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 3, 2013

An unintended consequence

THE ISSUE: A bill calling for a purge of law enforcement personnel from online property records.

OUR VIEW: Anonymity for police threatens the transparency of public property records.

There are many good intentions at the start of every Indiana General Assembly, to be quickly followed by a host of unintended consequences.

Exhibit A would be state Rep. Mike Karickhoff’s well-intentioned attempt to bestow on law enforcement the ability to have members’ names purged from online, county-maintained property records.

As one legislative watcher put it, it’s a measure certain to gain a lot of sympathy. But as soon as we ran a story on the bill, we received email asking why the bill only covers law enforcement addresses.

After all, if law enforcement officials’ names are stricken from Howard County’s online property tax database, Beacon, why shouldn’t other people be able to have their names removed?

Going further, why should they have their names printed on the property cards at the auditor’s office? Shouldn’t they be able to own property in perfect anonymity?

Since time began, the good people at the auditor’s office have explained to those who plead privacy that “people have a right to know who owns property.”

That right has been sacrosanct. You have a right to know who owns the property you’re interested in purchasing. You have the right to know if your public officials are paying their property taxes. You have the right to know who owns the drug house down the street. You have the right to know who owns that property the government just purchased.

And the system works. Every day, Realtors, prospective homebuyers, government officials, bankers, concerned neighbors and a host of others take advantage of the public service the county provides through Beacon.

But now comes the camel’s nose under the tent, in the form of Karickhoff’s bill, followed by a bit more of the camel in the form of another legislator’s amendment to extend the anonymity privilege to anyone who asks.

One wonders how long it will be until the entire beast is inside the tent, the property records are a Swiss cheese of blank data fields, and your right to a transparent system of property records and tax information has been sacrificed to legislative good intentions.

We also wonder how those aforementioned auditor’s office employees will cope when they’re deluged with in-person information requests, if indeed Beacon is subjected to a legislative purge.

There’s a reason this bill went nowhere two years ago, and it’s the same reason it should die permanently this time around.

There’s next to no evidence Karickhoff’s proposal will make anyone safer, but it’s guaranteed to play havoc with one of the most useful and taxpayer-friendly services local government can offer.