North Carolina government corruption
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"Leaders of Rowan Jobs Initiative have reversed course and decided to provide county officials with records covering the four years the nonprofit organization has existed.
Earlier this month, top officials of Rowan Jobs refused to provide copies of minutes and other records. Instead, they offered to meet with commissioners one at a time and allow them to review some records."
Under current state law, judges can require a losing party to pay the winner's attorneys fees, but judges rarely do this in public records cases. The idea is to discourage governments from withholding public records, the bill's supporters say the bill's supporters say.
"The public records are the people's records," said Rep. Deborah Ross, a Raleigh Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill. "They're not our records. They're not the politicians' records."
The Attorney General's Office would have a new division under the bill that would advise about 1,500 governmental units on public records issues. The unit could prevent disputes from going to court by mediating them, hopefully cutting the number of lawsuits while making government more open.
The panel concluded that top Mecklenburg County managers took proper steps to address accounting failures, causing the makeup of the panel to come under scrutiny.
The two commissioners/panel members, County Manager Harry Jones and county general manager, John McGillicuddy, helped to write the report presented to the county board of commissioners this week.
Jones and McGillicuddy are the administrators on the committee and Commissioner Dan Murrey, commissioner Bill James and certified public accountant Ward Simmons join them on the committee.
“It seems odd to me that our county manager and an assistant county manager who reports to our county manager would be a part of a committee to make a determination about whether management responded appropriately,” Commissioner Harold Cogdell said. “It undermines to some extent … the appearance of what this committee is charged with having done.”
The members will look into whether they should remove administrators from the panel in the future, according to Murrey. Some commissioners have expressed concern that the arrangement undermines public confidence in the review as well as hinders the committee's ability zero in on the person to blame.
Supporters of allowing managers on the panel do not believe it compromises investigations. They think it allows administrators on the committee to give commissioners experienced knowledge about the daily workings of county government.
The Audit Review Committee was established in 1998 by county officials to oversee financial audits and make recommendations to the commissioners. In North Carolina, counties arrange the committee so that it must include two commissioners, two county administrators and a community member.
"Democracy can be messy, but openness is nearly always preferable to allowing the government to decide what information it will allow the public to see. A Superior Court judge has agreed, and directed New Hanover County to release records that, by law, belong to the public.
Those records include the names, departments and salaries of the people the county laid off last month due to budget cuts. The Star-News has those names; it chose not to publish them because their identities weren't critical in reporting which departments were most affected. But their names are among the many government records that are supposed to be available to anyone who asks for them."
"For many North Carolinians seeking access to government documents, the state's public-records law is meaningless. A bureaucrat or elected official can refuse to release a public document, and the citizen cannot afford the legal costs associated with suing for its release.
That obstruction of open government would change significantly if legislation before the N.C. House of Representatives becomes law. House Bill 1134 would make it almost certain that citizens who successfully sue for records would get reimbursed for a reasonable amount of attorneys' fees."
"Four state House members have introduced a bill that would require judges to award attorneys fees to plaintiffs who prevail in many public records cases.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Deborah Ross, D-Wake; William Wainwright, D-Craven; Winkie Wilkins, D-Person; and Margaret Dickson, D-Cumberland, would also set up an open government unit within the attorney general's office to educate the public and government agencies of their rights and responsibilities under the state's public records and open meetings laws."
North Carolina Press Association executive director Beth Grace said Tuesday that the legislation can prevent people who fight city hall from going broke even if they win their case. Agencies that rely on legal advice to keep records closed wouldn't have to pay."
"Lawyers for the Star-News argued in court Tuesday that New Hanover County has an obligation to release the identities of the 27 county employees who were laid off last month.
A county attorney said New Hanover officials have given the newspaper all they can and that disclosing those names would violate personnel confidentiality laws."
They say Morrison's request for officials' e-mails in 2007 cost the city tens of thousands of dollars to compile. And, they complain, the transit tax opponent never picked up the documents."
"Efforts to make government more transparent to the public are being put forth, and in some cases implemented, in both the executive and legislative branches of government.
Just this past week, Gov. Bev Perdue took a step toward fulfilling a campaign promise to make state government more open. It's the beginning of an effort to put all contracts and grants exceeding $10,000 online by the end of the year.
Web page for the "open book" government site is: http://www.ncopenbook.gov/."
"North Carolina is among the best states at posting public records on the Internet, but some information is often hard to find, infrequently updated or not entirely available, according to an analysis by The Associated Press released today.
The survey examined how all 50 states provide online access to 20 different kinds of records, ranging from consumer complaints to teacher certifications. The report ties North Carolina for third with Kentucky in its accessibility to public records. Only Texas and New Jersey ranked higher in the Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information, which was compiled by newspaper and broadcast journalists over a two-month period."
"A consultant warned Charlotte leaders in 2002 that publicly funded neighborhood groups needed tighter oversight, but officials never acted on his advice.
Instead, they replaced him.
Now, as city officials struggle to recoup loans they gave the groups to build low-income housing, their calls for greater scrutiny echo the warning from seven years ago."
Brian Edes said the case was in administrative court this week to appoint mediators.
Brian Keesee filed a lawsuit against the town, the former clerk and the town manager last year, claiming the town has withheld information and possibly shredded documents he requested."
"Multiple problems in accessing public records from the county manager was the topic for Lake Gaston resident June Gibbs as she addressed county commissioners during the Citizens Comments portion of their monthly meeting on Monday.
The rules for comments were changed that day to allow for only three minutes per speaker instead of the standard five, however, and cut her short of stating her most recent complaint: that County Manager Linda Worth was deleting e-mail messages in violation of state law."
"Last March, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Debbie Crane created a major flap when she disclosed that Gov. Mike Easley's press chiefs had routinely instructed agency flacks to delete e-mail correspondence to his office. The point, Crane charged, was to shield Easley from scrutiny by eliminating public records.
In the flurry of media coverage that ensued, Department of Transportation Communications Director Ernie Seneca freely admitted to The News & Observer that he deleted almost all of his e-mail correspondence at the end of each day."
“I feel vindicated,” said Joann Hager of Tri-County Animal Rescue. “It took over 18 months to receive copies of documents. I feel it will be a victory for the residents of Lincoln County if processes are changed and new procedures are developed to store/maintain public records. Public documents were destroyed and the board of commissioners admitted to this,” she said."
"North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue says her office is reviewing an executive order filed by predecessor Mike Easley that attempts to clarify policy about state e-mails.
Easley signed the order Friday, a day before he left office.
The order responded to a lawsuit filed by media outlets last year accusing his administration of breaking the law by systematically deleting e-mails that were public records."
"The city of Greensboro generally does a good job of making information available to the public. But not always.
As Denise Turner, filling the new position of assistant city manager for communication, works on a public-records policy, her priorities should be access and accountability.
The city's Web site already is an excellent source of information. Viewers can click on "media/public records" and find news releases, reports and other items of interest. What's not so apparent is where to go or whom to call for something else."
"United Way of Central Carolinas Inc. is delaying the release of information regarding former chief executive Gloria Pace King’s expense records.
The volume of the expense reports, and the complexity of preparing them, are greater than anticipated, United Way lawyer Russell Sizemore says in a letter to the local news media. That has caused a delay in the release of the information, which had been slated for early this month."
"The city could soon have a new, more user friendly way of issuing public documents.
In August, the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress asked the City Council to improve the speed, transparency and uniformity of the city’s response to requests for public records.
That task has fallen to Denise Turner, the new assistant city manager for communications, who hopes to develop a policy by February. A new system could include deadlines for responding to requests."
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