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Note: This post has been updated from the original to include a response from Gov. McCrory’s office.

The N.C. Justice Center, along with a number of media and non-profit coalition partners, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pat McCrory today, accusing his office and administration of not fully complying with the state’s public records law.

The lawsuit was filed in Wake County Superior Court.

The N.C. Justice Center, an anti-poverty non-profit, filed the lawsuit because of issues N.C. Policy Watch, a project of the Justice Center, faced in obtaining public records from McCrory’s office and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent company of WRAL; the News & Observer; the Alamance News; the Southern Environmental Law Center; the Durham-based alternative weekly Indy Week; and Media General Operations, which owns WNCN-TV in Raleigh and WNCT-TV in Greenville.

The lawsuit is seeking release of the various requested records, as well as policies that would prevent excessive fees to access public records and require prompt responses to future public records requests.

McCrory’s office issued a statement Tuesday night about the lawsuit, saying that the governor’s administration has been “a champion of transparency and fair and legitimate news gathering.”

But some media members and advocacy groups have abused the spirit of the public records law by filing overly broad and time-consuming requests, McCrory’s office wrote in a statement.

“Like the requests themselves, this lawsuit is an attempt to tie up state personnel and resources that should be spent serving the people of North Carolina,” the statement read.

(Click here to read the entirety of McCrory’s press statement.)

lawsuitmccrorypublicrecords.pdf by NC Policy Watch

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

mccroryThere’s a hard-hitting report out today from the Center for Public Integrity peeling back the layers behind the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, a group of primarily Republican governors pushing to allow off-shore drilling in Atlantic waters.

The coalition is chaired by Gov. Pat McCrory, and the Center for Public Integrity report (also published in Time magazine) details how a private firmed backed by oil and energy industry representatives are providing research and information to the group of governors. (Click here to read the entire article.)

From the report:

While the message from the governors that morning [a February meeting with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell] would have come as no surprise to Jewell, less clear, perhaps, was that the governors were drawing on the research and resources of an energy lobbying firm acting on behalf of an oil industry-funded advocacy group.

Indeed, the background materials handed to the governors for the meeting, right down to those specific “asks,” were provided by Natalie Joubert, vice president for policy at the Houston- and Washington D.C.-based HBW Resources. Joubert helps manage the Consumer Energy Alliance, or CEA, a broad-based industry coalition that HBW Resources has been hired to run. The appeal for regulatory certainty, for example, came with a note to the governors that Shell, a CEA member, “felt some of the rules of exploration changed” after it began drilling operations in the Arctic.

McCrory, a former Duke Energy executive, does not come off looking very good, with a mention of his spokesman contacting the private industry-backed firm to ask how to answer a reporter’s questions about the group led by McCrory.

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News

Roger Bacon Academy, the private, for-profit education management organization (EMO) that runs four public charter schools in eastern North Carolina and is headed by prominent charter school advocate Baker Mitchell Jr., appears to have failed to comply with a state-imposed September 30 deadline requiring public charter schools to disclose the taxpayer-funded salaries of any staff who are employed by the private EMOs that manage them.

A directive issued on August 13 by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s CFO, Philip Price — on behalf of State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey – requested all NC charter schools who contract with private, for-profit EMOs to disclose the salary information of the EMO employees who operate or help staff their schools no later than September 30, 2014. Failure to comply with this directive would result in the state placing the charter schools in financial noncompliance status, which could set them on a path toward closure.

The non-profit organization that Roger Bacon Academy manages to oversee their four schools, Charter Day School, Inc., submitted documentation to DPI on September 30, but did not include salary information for employees of the private, for-profit company.

“CDS does not possess individual salaries paid by any private corporation that furnishes services,” said John J. Ferrante, chairman of the board of Charter Day School, Inc., in his September 30 letter to DPI.

North Carolina’s charter schools are public and receive taxpayer dollars to operate.

Last summer, the General Assembly approved legislation that allows private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

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