Author

Hope everyone’s enjoying their lunch on this chilly March day. Does anyone know when the sun is supposed to come back?

First up, here’s the latest in the ongoing fallout over the Feb. 2 coal ash spill in North Carolina’s Dan River.

The N.C. Department of Natural Resources has hired a Charlotte attorney who previously represented Duke Energy, as a federal grand jury investigates whether state agency leaders had too cozy a relationship with the energy company. The Greensboro News & Record reported over the weekend on the worries farmers along the polluted river are facing, as they try to find out more about the dangers of the toxic-laden water.

Former Duke lacrosse player Ryan McFadyen, who was never charged in the infamous case that eventually resulted in the exoneration of three players and the downfall of Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong , is featured in this Vanity Fair article about the scandal’s lasting effects.

Consider this an invitation to join us tomorrow for lunch, with a few spots left for Policy Watch’s luncheon tomorrow with Dean Baker, one of the nation’s most prominent economists. Click here to register.

Finally, North Carolina’s Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat, sat down with Stephen Colbert for the fake conservative pundit’s ongoing “Better Know a District” spoof.

Colbert noted North Carolina as home to bracket-busting Duke University and held up a plate of vinegar-soaked cardboard for North Carolina barbecue. Meanwhile, Butterfield tried (unsuccessfully) to convince Colbert that the minority groups at risk in America don’t include the one percent.

Click here to watch.

 

Here’s the latest in the civil court case involving Duke Energy and the clean-up of coal-ash ponds. Click here for background on the case.

Wake Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway denied a request Thursday from the utility company to delay a previous order to start immediately dealing with contamination from coal-ash ponds Duke maintains around the state.

Duke had asked that the clean-up be delayed while it appealed Ridgeway’s decision earlier this month to order Duke to take immediate action to stop contamination by coal-ash ponds. Today’s order means that Duke must be forward with plans to clean up the ponds.

Below are copies of Ridgeway’s order, as well a motion from environmental groups asking that the stay be denied.

 

Duke Stay Coal Ash by NC Policy Watch

 

 

Enviro Objection Stay by NC Policy Watch

 

Five months after she first asked, a Maryland college student got documents she requested pertaining to the University of North Carolina’s policies on social media for student athletes.

Melissa Katz, who requested the information as part of a national survey she and classmates conducted, received the requests today (March 20).

The university released the information two days after an account of the student’s experiences of requesting public requests was published in conjunction with the Student Press Law Center. We wrote about the student journalists’ report on public records yesterday, and were told by UNC the student request was still being processed.

The public records report did not put UNC in a flattering light, finding that the Chapel Hill campus was among the most uncooperative of the 80-plus public universities surveyed. The delay was so long, it lead an Arizona journalism professor to call the university’s lack of response “terrible” and “outrageous.”

Here’s the update about UNC’s records release from the Student Press Law Center:

Katz’s request was submitted by email Oct. 2 — 121 business days ago. North Carolina law requires agencies to respond to public records requests “as promptly as possible.” Asked about the delay,[UNC spokeswoman Karen] Moon wrote that the university had been working on gathering responsive records. ”The public records office completed that process yesterday and provided those records,” she wrote.

“The University makes every effort to respond as promptly as possible to public records requests,” Moon said. “The volume and complexity of records requests have significantly increased over the past few years – in part because of news media interest in recent controversies involving athletics and academic irregularities.”

Moon added that the university is working to improve its record request response process while maintaining student and employee privacy.

Click here to read the entire report.

Want to see the records that Katz received? You can click here to read the university responds and the records.

 

The University of North Carolina didn’t win any points for transparency in a report issued this week that found the Chapel Hill campus failed to respond to a student journalist’s request for copies of athletic department documents.

large_blue_600pxSeveral University of Maryland journalism students, in this report jointly published by the Student Press Law Center, asked 83 public colleges and universities for copies of codes of conduct for athletic departments and teams and other related documents.

While most schools complied with the request for copies of policies related to social media use by student athletes, UNC sat on the records request for more than five months without producing anything. Their inaction stood out from the rest of the schools, the vast majority of which complied with requests for records.

The student journalists also encountered problems at the University of Delaware and the University of Central Florida, both of which denied the requests for information.

Dave Collier, the head of University of Arizona’s journalism school and current president of the national Society of Professional Journalist, called UNC’s handling of the requests “terrible.”

“I don’t know if that’s UNC’s intent here, but it’s really outrageous, that kind of delay,” Cuillier said in the SPLC report. “Does UNC really want to be an outlier? Does UNC want to be seen that way?”

Read More

Here’s your daily dose of sunshine today, or at least the open government type of rays celebrated every year as part of the national Sunshine Week.

Earlier this month,  Lee County commissioners abandoned their normal meeting location to hold what is supposed to be a town hall-type public meeting at Sanford’s private Carolina Trace Country Club, according to this account from the writers behind the Rant, a Sanford-based news blog. (Scroll down for the video, it’s worth it.)

After digging a bit, writer Billy Liggett, a former newspaper editor, found out that the March 7 meeting was not only being held in a place where the general public couldn’t go, it was limited to residents of the Carolina Trace gated community. An advertisement later obtained by Liggett about the meeting promoted the meeting as a meet-and-greet with local Republican elected official and candidates for upcoming races.

North Carolina’s open meeting law is pretty clear on what ought to happen when it comes to these situations, requiring that “each official meeting of a public body shall be open to the public, and any person is entitled to attend such a meeting.” Read More