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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.”

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The lists of nominees for a combined 16 seats on the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors are out.

UNCsystemLawmakers in both chambers of the legislature are expected to hold elections by March 19 to choose 16 of the board’s 32 members who oversee the 17-campus UNC system. The House and Senate will select eight members apiece.

The new members will be joining the university system board as a search to replace Tom Ross, the UNC system president, gets underway, after the board decided in January to part ways with Ross. The current board, all of which received appointments from a Republican-led legislature, are also considering “right-sizing” the university system, a process that could end in consolidating or closing some campuses, and after the board decided to close three academic centers, a decision seen by some as an assault on academic freedom.

Among those being nominated are former state Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican who resigned from his seat last year to become a lobbyist, and J. Edgar Broyhill, a Republican Winston-Salem investment banker who also serves on the board of the  Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a conservative N.C. higher education think-tank largely funded through Art Pope’s family foundation.

Members leaving the board in 2015 include Ann Goodnight, the wife of SAS founder Jim Goodnight; G. Leroy Lail, a businessman with the Hickory Furniture Market; and Peter Hans, a former board chair and Raleigh lobbyist who is expected to join the N.C. Banking Commission.

Below are the nominees from the House:

House BOG

Source: N.C. House Clerk’s office (Names with w/d have withdrawn from consideration)

and the Senate:

 

2015 Board of Governors Nominees by NC Policy Watch

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Most of the focus at Friday’s University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors meeting was on a unanimous decision to close three academic centers, including an Chapel Hill law school center focused on poverty and run by a controversial law professor who has been a fierce critic of state Republican leaders

A student speaks up in protest at Friday's Board of Governors meeting.

A student speaks up in protest at Friday’s Board of Governors meeting.

But, questions have been also raised about whether the UNC board violated North Carolina’s open meeting law after Chairman John Fennebresque shut down the meeting because disruptions by student protesters. Members of the public were excluded from the remainder of the meeting, after Fennebresque moved the board of members and university staff to another room to continue the meeting.

The general public was kept out of the smaller meeting room, though members of the press and some individuals, including Republican state Sen. Bob Rucho, were allowed in the more select meeting. Video of the meeting was streamed to another room for the public to observe. The student protesters continued to chant outside the meeting room, yelling statements like “Let us in!,” and their protests frequently drowned out discussion at the actual meeting.

Jonathan Jones, the director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition, based out of Elon University, wrote an article this weekend questioning whether including the press in the second meeting room and streaming video was sufficient to keep the meeting in line with open meeting laws. It hasn’t been in other cases, Jones wrote.

Another transparency concern brought up in the piece was a resolution, apparently passed in closed session in January, to not speak to the press about the firing of the UNC system President Tom Ross. N.C. Policy Watch has made a public records request for a copy of that resolution, but has yet to receive a response from the UNC system.

Here’s more about the open meeting concerns, from the N.C. Open Government Coalition:

N.C. Press Association Attorney Amanda Martin told The Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer newspapers that the actions of the board violated the law since there was clearly an effort to exclude the public. Ross, the system president, told the papers that the video and audio feeds complied with the meetings law and the move was made so the meeting could move forward.

The Open Meetings Law states that meetings “shall be open to the public, and any person is entitled to attend.” It does not address excluding the public when the audience is disruptive. The Court of Appeals addressed the question of what it means for “any person … to attend” a public meeting in Garlock v. Wake County Board of Education. In that case the Wake County Board of Education’s regular meeting room could not accommodate large crowds that were wanting to attend meetings, so the board developed a lottery system for which it provided short notice. The board also used smaller meeting room for a committee of the whole meeting, as opposed to its larger meeting room, and excluded the public. People excluded could view the meetings in an adjacent room on video and audio feeds.

The Court of Appeals first found that “the legislature’s purpose for N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.10 is to ensure that public bodies receive public input regarding the substance of the public body’s actions, that the public has the opportunity to have knowledge and understanding of the public body’s deliberations and actions, and that public bodies to act in good faith in making provision for the public’s knowledge and participation in its meetings.” The court then said that the appropriate standard is to examine whether or not the public body took “reasonable measures to provide for public access to its meetings.”

In dealing with the committee of the whole meeting, from which the public was excluded, the court stated that “media coverage alone does not render a meeting open; a reasonable opportunity for access by members of the public must be made. The complete exclusion of members of the public from the COW meeting for a significant portion of the meeting is the most obvious violation of the Open Meetings Law in this case.”

The Board of Governors meeting Friday is most similar to the Wake County Board of Education’s committee of the whole meetings in which the public was excluded, the press was included and video feeds were made available. The Court of Appeals found that to be a violation of the meetings law in Garlock, given in part that a larger meeting room was available next door.

It seems unlikely that the Board of Governors concerns about disruptions would be sufficient to distinguish this situation from Garlock. The Board of Governors had a room available sufficient to handle the public who wanted to attend, and had other means available to it, as evidenced by UNCC police escorting protestors out of the room, to control outbursts.

This is the second Open Meetings Law question to arise in a Board of Governors meeting in as many months. Last month the board met in executive session to discuss the performance of President Tom Ross, and then announced that his contract would only be renewed for this year. After the meeting, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on emails that it had obtained through records requests. The emails of board member emeritus Hannah Gage revealed that the board passed a resolution in closed session “not to comment” on Ross’ departure. No such resolution was disclosed or affirmed, according to the minutes from that meeting.

You can read the entire article here.

Note: This post has changed from the original to reflect the correct name for Elon University. The original post incorrectly referred to the private university in Burlington as Elon College.

News

CHARLOTTE – The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors opted Friday to eliminate an academic center concentrated on poverty and run by a controversial professor.

The Board of Governors, meeting on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, voted unanimously to accept recommendations to shut down three centers on three different campuses – the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina University, the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University and the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill.

A student speaks up in protest at Friday's Board of Governors meeting.

A student speaks up in protest at Friday’s Board of Governors meeting.

Student protestors, who came to the meeting in Charlotte from several different campuses, nearly shut down the meeting.

Friday’s meeting also included a vote to allow campuses to raise tuition and fees over the next two years at its campuses, cost increases that range from 2 to 7 percent for in-state students. (Click here to read a previous post about this.)

The five-month review of centers and institutes, conducted at the behest of the Republican-led state legislature, looked at 240 centers on the 16 university campuses in the UNC systems. The university system leaders may opt to further evaluate nine marine science centers at various UNC campuses at a later date.

The resolution passed Friday makes clear that the three centers singled out for closure will be shut down by this summer and negates an effort, largely led by UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, to urge Chancellor Carol Folt to keep the poverty center open.

Folt told the UNC Board of Governors that many on her campus view their actions as an attempt at suppressing academic freedoms.

“They’ve very fearful this decision [will have] a chilling effect,” Folt said.

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Scroll down for an update of what happened Thursday. Spoiler alert: not much. Vote expected Friday.

Despite the snow storm that socked the state overnight, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors is still scheduled to hold their meetings today and tomorrow in Charlotte.

One of the items slated for discussion at a sub-committee this morning is a recommendation to close three centers in the university system, including the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus.

A vote by the full UNC Board of Governors  will be on Friday, at the meeting being held at UNC-Charlotte’s campus.

The center is headed by Gene Nichol, a tenured law professor who has been open in his public criticism of how Republican policies have affected the poorest in the state. Many, including Nichol, have suggested the slated closure of the privately-funded center after years of complaints by conservative groups about Nichol.

Many have spoken out against the proposed closure, including the American Association of University Professors and a majority of law school faculty.

I will be at the meeting – and tweeting what happens. Follow me @SarahOvaska. Check back on the blog later today for an update on what happened.

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