So far beautiful campus, open wireless, closeby coffee (Starbucks dressed up to look like an independent), great building, full house. Being introduced to the Sunshine Center and the NC Open Government Coalition.
Brooke Barnett intros the panel. Mike Tadych — current issues and the law, Beth Grace – NCPA — citizen representation, Steve Riley of N and O — Sunshne Week coverage.
Laws are for the people — not necessarily for media — abusive cost and fees for public records are the big barrier. Government lawyers don’t seem to want to follow the open records laws driving up costs. reluctance in awarding fees by courts. Lothrop v Chatham County is the case. Stout v Whisoering Pines costs to plaintives was $35K. no cost awarded. Outer Banks Sentinel v Kitty Hawk. Burlington v Alamance News. the News sued by the city. the city could not sue. but cost the paper $48k. paper got $38k?
problems: lack of training, economic incentives (hypersecret as in dell and google), public/private partnerships hide public actions, ncmedialaw.com for more.
Beth Grace – public records audit (thanks to all who worked on this). discusses how the audit works. this year no one was arrested! but apparently no one in governments can download emails. emails meet the most resistance. in one case, the police couldn’t download email but they could go to their offices and send a note to the government listserv to warn others that the audit was underway. delays and rerouting to the supertendants is normal. overall the results were improved since 1999.
Steve Riley – on his Sunshine Week projects. recognizes the League of Woman Voters. Head is still waiting for response for the Durham School Board… N and O used volunteers instead of reporters to see how citizens got responses. Problems of dealing with non-professionals. Bills and costs are mentioned as big barriers to citizens. What is the recourse for citizens? If volunteers go to places that have not been visited in the past 6 months, they will likely say no. Post lawsuit in Chatham County resulted in good response from those agencies. Get agencies used to complying. Durham is an exception. They get a lot of requests but they still deny. Especially to volunteer requests. Every sheriff’s dept and police chief gave up cell phone records on requests (as required by law). Some volunteers were nervous especially in small towns.
Questions: Records are hidden in personel files? yes says MT. in manteo for example, the chief challenged MT when he said that personel records are in part must be revealed. another in Columbus County. SR says that sharing with personal lawyers can be used to deny access via client privs. MT says that the law firm in Kitty Hawk stamped every paper as “not a public record” of course legally they are public records.
Return rate is higher this year says BG. last time overall compliance was 20%. but this time less sheriff’s and police. overall no real comparison because the questions were so different. Next time fewer questions. now 6 and will become 4 or so.
BG on charges. actual costs are the rule. she hasn’t seen excessive charges this time. CDs used for free download. (from audience) I wonder if they were warned. listserv mentioned. SR — DHHS charges $1000 for a small amount of work. SR and NandO eventually prevailed
About the listserv. in what county. town clerk. in the previous survey a fax blast went out and killed compliance rate.
37 responses in 50 counties. school districts were the worst at compliance. 60 agencies surveyed (?)