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Ashe County sheriff investigates employees for trying to fulfill public info requests

Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan.

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.

News

Gov. Cooper: “It may be the most fiscally irresponsible budget I’ve ever seen.”

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a press conference Tuesday, expressing disappointment with the budget proposed by legislative leaders.

Gov. Roy Cooper will push for both Democrats and Republicans to vote against the state budget proposed by legislative leaders this week.

“It may be the most fiscally irresponsible budget I’ve ever seen,” Cooper said in a press conference Tuesday.

Cooper said the compromise version of the budget released late Monday was worse than either the House or Senate versions of the budget.

“In comparison, their overall spending is higher than the two budgets but teacher pay is lower than the two budgets,” Cooper said. “That is a demonstration of priorities that are out of line.”

“To put it simply, this budget prioritized tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and short-changes education and economic development,” Cooper said. “It does pick winners and losers – the wealthy win, but the average middle class family loses. Education loses. Economic development loses. People struggling with opioid abuse lose.”

Cooper said he was surprised and disappointed to see significant funding for combating the opioid problem – something on which there seemed to be bipartisan agreement – left out of the version of the budget released this week.

“It actually makes cuts in mental health, which is going to hurt the fight against opioids,” Cooper said. “So I’m deeply concerned about that.”

Cooper also criticized the tax plan outlined by the budget.

“Under this budget a person earning a million dollars or more per year will get a tax break that is 85 times larger than what a working family gets,” Cooper said. “Think about that for a minute. Eighty-five times larger. The tax plan in this budget will blow a major hole in our budget just a few years down the road, handcuffing our ability to invest in education and the economy, handcuffing our ability to make teacher pay the highest in the Southeast in three years and at least to the national average in five years.”

But the largest problems are with the deficiencies in the budget that will hurt North Carolinians now, Cooper said – including no more money for teachers who pay for materials out of their own pockets and a short-changing of early childhood education.

“And while public schools are in so much need, this budget drains money from the public school system to pay for private school vouchers,” Cooper said.

The governor stopped short of saying he would veto the budget.

“If this budget does pass – I look forward to a strong debate – I’ll let you know as soon as it hits my desk,” Cooper said. “But as you can see right now, I think this budget is wrong for North Carolina.”

News

Concealed carry, crime, Texas and N.C.

With the North Carolina legislature considering a bill to do away with permits for carrying concealed handguns under most circumstances, it’s worth looking at one of the central claims of its proponents.

Namely, that concealed carry may deter crime by making criminals unsure who may have a gun and be ready to defend themselves and others.

Here’s what a Texas A&M researcher found in a study two years ago, when the Texas legislature opened state university campuses to concealed carry: No demonstrable correlation.

The study published in the Journal of Criminology looked at the connection between crime rates and concealed handgun permits for each county in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas.

Researchers used two sources of data from 1998 to 2010: concealed handgun license information and arrest data from Uniform Crime Reports, which the FBI compiles nationwide to gauge arrests for serious crimes including homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and arson.

Overall, they found no connection between allowing concealed weapons and crime rates, which are trending downward nationwide.

“The idea that concealed handguns lead to less crime is at the center of much firearms legislation, but the science behind that conclusion has been murky,” said study lead Charles D. Phillips, an emeritus regents professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, in a statement. “The results have been so inconclusive that the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 called for a new approaches to studying the issue, which is what we’ve done with this research.”

Read the whole study here.

News

Greensboro looks to learn from nationwide study on police review boards

If you’ve been following the tensions between the Greensboro Police Department, the community and the police complaint review board, you should read Susan Ladd’s latest column.

The columnist for Greensboro’s News & Record looks at a study of citizen boards for police oversight across the country – and what Greensboro and other N.C. cities can learn from it.

From her column:

The [Greensboro] PCRB generally conforms to what the study describes as the review-focused model of oversight boards, which are headed by civilian volunteers, review the quality of police internal affairs investigations, and make recommendations regarding its findings or requests further investigation.

And the PCRB is plagued by some of the weaknesses the study identifies in review models: it has limited authority, few organizational resources and is less independent than other forms of oversight. Because review boards focus on individual cases, their ability to promote systemic change within a law enforcement agency is limited. St. Petersburg, San Diego and Indianapolis also follow the review model.

Investigation-focused models (San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C.) are generally staffed by paid civilian investigators who conduct independent investigations of complaints against police officers. These boards may even replace the police internal affairs process. They are the most independent, but they also are the most expensive form of oversight and face the strongest resistance from police departments, the study says.

Auditor/monitor-focused boards (Denver, New Orleans, Los Angeles) don’t focus on individual cases but use a paid staff with technical expertise to review police department records, case files and databases to determine patterns in complaints and make suggestions for improvement.

Many boards are organizational hybrids that combine different organizational forms and types of authority. A toolkit on NACOLE’s website includes examples of charter language, oversight policies and procedures, complaint forms, annual reports and other resources.

News

The state of the concealed gun debate

House Bill 746, which would do away with the need for a concealed carry permit for handguns in most cases, passed the House this week and is headed for the Senate.

But it didn’t pass the House with enough GOP support to sustain a veto, should Gov. Roy Cooper reject the bill when it hits his desk. That leaves some options as it heads to the Senate:

  1. Lawmakers could kill the bill in the Senate to save GOP colleagues the agony of letting Cooper’s veto stand (and handing him a political victory on an issue most people actually understand rather than something complex and technical).
  2. They can try to twist some arms should that veto come and pray there are some Republicans willing to vote for a bill they’ve twice voted against and in some cases made strong arguments against in order to spite Cooper.
  3. They can try to fix the bill, making it more palatable to a larger number of GOP lawmakers (Demcorats stood united against it in the House). But how to do that without adding in mandatory firearms training (which would require some sort of permitting system in the first place) isn’t yet clear. Raising the age at which people could carry concealed without a permit from 18 to 21 might move the needle a bit, but conservative sheriffs, police chiefs and law enforcement groups all say they want to see actual training.

Meanwhile, the state of the debate — and the seriousness with which some are taking it — can be gauged by this stick figure cartoon, which was making its way around the House floor this week and was shared – among others – by  Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) online as well.

A closer look:

Folks who don’t find it that simple include Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, all conservative Republicans. Add to that list the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police and Blust’s fellow Guilford County Republican, Rep. John Faircloth (himself a former High Point Chief of Police). They’ve all taken issue with parts of the bill, chiefly the age and training requirements.

There’s also the majority of North Carolina voters, as demonstrated by two polls on the issue.