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Lawmaker wants to make some N.C. Port Authority records off-limits to the public

A state Senator who previously chaired the N.C. State Port Authority wants to make contracts the state port authority enters into with carriers a secret.

If passed, the bill would carve out an exemption to the state public records law for “usage” contracts the state port enters into with carriers. The contracts generally detail the costs paid to the state for docking, handling cargo, storage and other services.

NCPorts

Photo from N.C. Ports Authority

Senate Bill 194 was introduced by state Sen. Michael Lee, a freshman Republican from Wilmington, and has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Lee, who chaired the State Ports Authority before joining the legislature, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

North Carolina’s public records law defines nearly all the documents, emails, and contracts that public agencies enter into as belonging to the public, and available for public inspection upon request. There are exceptions to the law, and records used by law enforcement for criminal investigations, personnel files, personally identifying information like social security numbers and plans for economic development are frequently not disclosed.

The publicly owned and operated State Port Authority is under the state transportation department, and overseen by an 11-member board. It operates deep water operations in Morehead City and Wilmington, and inland ports in Charlotte and Greensboro, according to a 2013 audit of the port.

A private marina in Southport that the state owns was recently put up for sale by the port authority, according to the Wilmington Star-News.

The N.C. State Ports Authority did not initiate a request for the pending bill about public record exemptions, said Cliff Pyron, a spokesman for the state-owned port.

But keeping the information secret would be beneficial , he said.

“It’s just needed for competitive reasons,” Pyron said.

Other ports on the Eastern seaboard exempt that information from the public record laws, Pyron said, referencing to a recent study conducted for the State Port Authority. Pyron said he did not know what specific states shield that information.

N.C. Policy Watch asked Wednesday for a copy of that report under the state public records law, but it was not immediately made available.

Pyron also indicated that, if the bill passes, the public could access other information at the state port – just not the contracts the state enters into with carriers.

“This is only a very small section of our contracts and only ones that deal with specific ports services,” Pyron wrote in an email. “The overwhelming majority of our contracts—including construction, purchasing, consulting services, etc.-will remain available to the public.”

4 Comments


  1. Laurie

    March 11, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    A solution looking for a problem?

    I have questions. First off, really other states are going to undercut our Right to Work State Wages? Have you actually looked at them?

    Find the process and paperwork too cumbersome? Invest to modernize it already. That is where you are missing the competitive advantage. Yes, you have made it extremely hard to do business with.

  2. Bob

    March 11, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Pyron misrepresents the truth, saying it only applies to “carriers”. Read the bill for yourself. It applies to “terminal services related to maritime activities, including dockage, wharfage, cargo handling, storage, ro-ro service, transportation drayage, and other miscellaneous port services.” Furthermore, competing states make their contracts public once they’re signed. The port wants to use this bill to bury information that the taxpaying public owns and has a right to see. Here’s the bill in full:
    7 Ҥ 136-276. Usage contracts.
    8 A usage contract entered into between the Authority and a carrier is not a public record
    9 within the meaning of G.S. 132-1. For purposes of this section, the term “usage contract” means
    10 a contract or agreement that contains terms and conditions involving terminal services related
    11 to maritime activities, including dockage, wharfage, cargo handling, storage, ro-ro service,
    12 transportation drayage, and other miscellaneous port services.”
    13 SECTION 2. This act is effective when it becomes law

  3. LayintheSmakDown

    March 12, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Hmm, maybe they can put the records on the Hillary Clinton server. That way they could be well concealed and easily deletable.

  4. Bob

    March 13, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    This bill is more convenient than Hilary’s server: No one has to delete any documents.

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