Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan is investigating three employees for trying to fulfill a public records request for text messages from his county-issued phone.
From a report from WBTV:
The request was the subject of a nearly ten-minute rant by Buchanan at a commissioners meeting in mid-April, weeks after the request was submitted.
“We don’t have time for this,” Buchanan told the commissioners of WBTV’s public records request in April. “Everything we have is (sic) public document but this takes away from all of our jobs; takes away from my job.”
The North Carolina Public Records Act makes nearly all records created by government officials and employees—which can be paper, electronic or another form—open to the public for inspection.
“The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people,” the statute reads.
Under the law, public records must be provided to those who request them “as promptly as possible.”
In his April speech before the commissioners, Buchanan acknowledged that he was subject to the public records act as sheriff.
“I have a cell phone that’s issued to me by the county. It’s a public record. Anybody could have that information,” Buchanan said. “I couldn’t care less if you grabbed what’s on my phone and put it out there.”
But WBTV has learned Buchanan’s office is investigating three county employees who attempted to retrieve Buchanan’s text message and provide them to WBTV in response to the station’s request.
Disclosure of the sheriff’s office investigation was made Monday afternoon by Ann Clark, who serves as the public records custodian and clerk to the board for the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.
Most recent controversies over police public records have had to do with footage from police body and dashboard cameras. The Ashe County matter, which deals with a firmly established public record, is well outside the norm even for this strange and often contentious area.