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John Fennebresque, UNC BOG chair

John Fennebresque, UNC BOG chair

A subcommittee of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors meets in Charlotte tomorrow to talk about the search for a new president of the 17-campus higher education system.

The board’s presidential search nominating committee is holding a public meeting at the McGuire Woods law firm in Charlotte, where UNC Board Chairman John Fennebresque is a vice-chairman at the law and lobbying firm.

Though the meeting is at a private law firm, it is public and open to anyone who wishes to attend. The meeting is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the McGuire Woods law firm, 201 N. Tryon Street in Charlotte.

The only items on the agenda are a review of past presidential searches and discussion by the committee.

UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

The 32 members of the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom have received appointments from a Republican-led legislature, are looking for a new president after President Tom Ross was unexpectedly pushed out in January. Fennebresque, the board chair, cited a general desire for change while praising Ross for his leadership and denying that politics played a role in Ross’ ouster.

The state’s open meeting laws allow public bodies (like the UNC Board of Governors) to hold their meetings in areas usually off-limits to the public as long as the general public is allowed to attend, said Brandon Huffman, a Raleigh-based attorney with the Stephens, Martin, Vaughn and Tadych law firm, which specializes in First Amendment issues.

“They can have it there,” Huffman said. “They do have to allow the public the same access as they would at any other venue.”

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News

A group of North Carolina senators wants to keep government information in the hands of Tar Heels, and not those from outside the state.

Senate Bill 553, filed Thursday by Republican state Sen. Warren Daniel, aims to limit access to public records to North Carolina residents. Currently, state law allows for anyone to request records from any state or local government agency, regardless of their residence.

N.C. Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Morganton

Daniel said he filed the bill after local governments in his area received extensive records requests from out-of-state companies asking for vendor lists and other documents.

“They take up staff time and cost local government money,” said Daniel, a Morganton attorney. He added, “Why should local governments be spending time and money satisfying the curiosities of people that don’t live here in the state?”

In a 2013 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case out of Virginia that states could stop non-residents from using public records laws to access information. Other states with in-state restrictions for public records include Alabama, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Tennessee, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Co-sponsors of the North Carolina bill include state Sen. Andrew Brock, Brent Jackson and Joyce Krawiec, all Republicans.

Brock also filed a government transparency bill, SB 633, on Thursday that would require every state and local government agency to publish on its website contact information for elected officials, procedures for requesting public records, all taxes and fees, salaries of all employees, detailed lists of purchases, contracts over $25,000 and other information.

S553v0 by NC Policy Watch

 

Commentary

In case you missed them over the weekend, there were at least two worth-your-time reads that raised more questions about the openness and transparency of a Governor who had promised to set new standards in those areas.

Number One is a fine essay by Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled “McCrory’s blind spot on ethics.” In it, Barnett rightfully takes the Governor to task for the yawning gap between some of his previous campaign rhetoric and the performance of his administration. Here are some excerpts:

“In his first run for governor in 2008, Pat McCrory fixed on a theme that would prove successful in his second try in 2012. He ran against what he considered the cloaked and unethical conduct of Democrats too long in power….

Now, in the third year of his first term, the words and theme of candidate McCrory have an odd resonance. There’s no evidence that Gov. McCrory has abused his powers, but there is also no evidence that he’s doing much to prevent abuses or dispel the appearance of potential abuses. This ‘reform’ governor is strangely cavalier when it comes to situations that raise ethical questions.”

After reviewing a long list a McCrory ethical lapses, Barnett puts it this way:

“McCrory says he’s getting tripped up because he has been in business rather than being exclusively a public servant. But it hardly seems a case of good-government sticklers picking on private-sector Pat. Rather, McCrory has made a living by mingling his public and private roles and now seems oblivious as to where one ends and the other begins.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Number Two is a brief AP news story in the Fayetteville Observer yesterday entitled “McCrory record seekers met with delays, demands for payments.” As the story reports: Read More

News

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.”

Uncategorized

As Chris Fitzsimon noted this morning, the lack of sunlight and opportunity for public input on a new round of tax cuts currently under construction in the state Senate is truly outrageous.

Now there’s more news on the black hole that is the Senate in this story by Mark Binker at WRAL.com entitled: “Crucial legislation can be crafted behind closed doors.”

As Binker reports, Senate Republicans are literally drafting the state budget behind closed doors with literally no opportunity for public input: Read More