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.
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.”