open government

More on the lack of transparency in NC charter schools

Taxpayers don't have a "need to know" on administrators' salaries:

“Charter staff are not employed by a public school board but by a private nonprofit board and, as a result, their salaries are not subject to public records law the way public school board employees’ or state employees’ salaries are,” said DPI spokeswoman Vanessa Jeter.

Cohen, N.C. Press Association lawyer Amanda Martin and CMS attorney George Battle III say she’s got it backward: There’s no legal protection for any information in the files. “It’s the privacy act. It’s not the publicity act,” Cohen said. “If they’re subject to the public records law, then nothing is private.”

It will be interesting to see if the Legislature clarifies this in the upcoming Short Session, as there seems to be a consensus from both sides of the aisle these salaries should be made public. That said, you have to question the relevance and integrity of an oversight Board that is so conflicted:

Sunshine Week open government discussion forum

Via e-mail from a reader:

The Albemarle City Council and the Albemarle Planning Board have a joint dinner meeting at a local restaurant to discuss business. At a later date the Albemarle Planning Board holds a public meeting and recommends action to the city. This may pass the open meetings law but I doubt many citizens show up
at a dinner meeting. Why does the City Council need a monthly dinner meeting with the Planning Board?

Before we begin to explore this, I want to encourage readers to take part in the discussion, and we'll use this thread as a meeting room. Leave the door open when you come in, as it has a bad habit of sticking there where the door casing has been painted over so many times. Did I carry that analogy too far? ;) Anyway, here's my take (as a newly-minted Planning Board member) on the question above:

McCrory administration lies again about exhorbitant public records fees

It pays to research before you use the "They do it too!" argument:

On Feb. 7, McCrory’s general counsel, Bob Stephens, fired back, saying, “This administration is committed to transparency, open government, and broad access to public records.” In his letter, Stephens argued that many governmental entities charge more for “extensive requests.” “In response (to large requests), cities like Charlotte and Asheville have instituted special service charge policies,” he wrote.

“We don’t charge for requests, other than occasional costs for duplication,” said Dawa Hitch, the city of Asheville’s public information officer. Carolyn Johnson, a senior deputy city attorney for Charlotte who often handles public records requests, said that the situation is similar in her city.

“We charge our actual costs to copy paper documents – 3 cents a page, because that’s what it costs us,” Johnson said. And most often, she said, public records are delivered to requesters electronically, free. “We don’t charge for the staff’s time (spent gathering records), and not on the IT side either,” she said.

Whether the high charges are due to simple greed or a calculated effort to stifle public records requests, the end result is the same: a hefty pricetag on something we should be able to see for free.

Sunshine Day at Elon University is Wed. March 14.

Sunshine Day is from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 14 at Elon University in Oaks 212. Speakers will include veteran journalists from North Carolina and more than a dozen experts and advocates for open government, including keynote speaker Barbara A. Petersen, the president of the First Amendment Foundation in Florida.

Elon encourages citizens, journalists, government employees, librarians, lawyers, public officials, anyone and everyone to attend.

Municipal broadband foes take advantage of open government

And the playing field tilts again:

The trade group, whose largest member is Time Warner, is one of a growing number of private enterprises turning to the public records law in recent years to settle beefs with government or to collect information they can use to make money.

For those who need to play catch-up on this issue, here's a glance at some recent developments:

Extreme transparency

Despotic regimes thrive on secrecy, and except for a smattering of honest libertarians, conservative policy makers today instinctively seek to shield their actions from public view. Dick Cheney, for example, mastered the dark art of deception, even as he kept the Clown-in-Chief from muddling his mind with too many facts. The same is true with the NCGOP leadership in Raleigh, who have quickly forgotten the risks of governing behind closed doors. Their latest attempt to veil public information is a unwelcome step in the wrong direction.

Letter to Speaker Tillis

Via e-mail from the very esteemed author:

It makes little sense for the controlling political caucus to write legislation behind closed doors and then try to use their majority status to ram the legislation through the General Assembly. This practice was wrong-headed during Jim Black’s tenure as Speaker, and it is wrong-headed today.

That's just an excerpt, here is the letter in its entirety:

Will it have a Pope exclusion?

Republicans in Raleigh are doing something Democrats should have done decades ago: attempting to enshrine "open government" into the North Carolina Constitution. Or perhaps more delicately put, this action wouldn't be necessary if the General Assembly had been doing the right thing all along. But now there's a hitch. Does the proposed Constitutional amendment extend to cover the meetings and actions of the King? Or will North Carolina's reigning political slumlord be free to continue his shadow government? Just to say it, a Constitutional amendment that doesn't address the Show doesn't address the problem of deception, electioneering, influence-peddling, backroom-dealing, and worse in North Carolina's public policy machine.

Easley used private email for state business

Cross-posted at dKos

Mike Easley's former communications director dropped a bombshell on Tuesday--her boss conducted state business on a secret email account.

Easley's former communications director Sherri Johnson testified in a deposition that Easley kept the secret account and used it for state business. Johnson was being deposed as part of a public records lawsuit filed by The N&O, The Charlotte Observer, The John Locke Foundation and several other news media outlets over access to e-mail messages.

The news organizations sued after some public information officers in state government said Easley's administration routinely deleted e-mail communication and advised other state public information officers to do the same. The state's public records law says that e-mail messages are public records no different than other state documents.

According to Johnson, the email account was under the name "Nick Danger," written backwards because Easley had a habit of writing backwards. Nick Danger, for those who don't know, is a character from a 1960s comedy troupe.

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