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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?”

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Sen. Jerry Tillman with Wake Forest filmmakers

Yesterday, during a meeting of the NC Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force, Sen. Jerry Tillman and
sergeant-at-arms Mr. Philip King approached the press section of room 544 of the Legislative Office Building to speak with two documentary filmmakers from Wake Forest University.

Monica Berra, co-director of a film that will look at the sweeping changes brought to North Carolina’s education system thanks to recent legislative actions, told NC Policy Watch that first, sergeant-at-arms King, and then Sen. Tillman, told her and her colleague, Tom Green, that they could not film the meeting without prior approval.

“Are you members of the press? Did you check in with someone,” prodded King. Read More

Last week was Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Today the sun seems to have gone into hiding here in Raleigh.

During House Education Week last month, Speaker Thom Tillis tapped several school superintendents to serve in “education working groups” with legislators, with the intent of seeking superintendents’ expertise and input on policies and legislation related to education reform.

Last week, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that lawmakers had already met informally in these education working groups to look at regulatory reform and identify state restrictions that can be eliminated to give schools more flexibility. Future meetings are said to include superintendents.

The word on the street is that there will be an education working group meeting of lawmakers and superintendents tomorrow, Tuesday March 19, 9am-noon in room 306B of the Legislative Office Building. Multiple calls to Speaker Tillis’ office, however, went unreturned when asked to confirm whether or not this meeting is open to the public. Calls to various lawmakers’ offices about this meeting went unreturned; however, one legislator’s office did confirm that the meeting will take place tomorrow.

The open meetings law states that “Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people’s business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly.”

A public body is defined as: “any elected or appointed authority, board, commission, committee, council, or other body of the State, or of one or more counties, cities, school administrative units, constituent institutions of The University of North Carolina, or other political subdivisions or public corporations in the State that (i) is composed of two or more members and (ii) exercises or is authorized to exercise a legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, or advisory function.”

NC Policy Watch plans to try to attend the meeting tomorrow.

Public records in the North Carolina offer a chance to peer into the depths of state government, and see what is and what isn’t working.

It’s what I use daily in the work I do here as an investigative reporter at N.C. Policy Watch. Access to public records have proven instrumental in reporting pieces I’ve done about the (now former) state legislator who benefitted substantially from a federally- funded non-profit he ran, a Winston-Salem public charter school that recruited basketball players from around the world and a trip to Florida that an educational reform lobbying group  paid for a group of lawmakers to go on last year.

This week being Sunshine Week, the annual check-in to see how open and transparent governments are, I thought it a good a time as any to wax poetic about the virtues of transparency.

My favorite line in the N.C. public records law? (And, yes, I’ve read the law enough times to have a favorite.)

This. “The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina SunshineWeekgovernment or its subdivisions are the property of the people.”

That means that records, reports, emails and whatever else is forged in the name of public business belong not to the state agency heads, politicians or bureaucrats that create them, but to John Q. Public. As in, you and me.

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