N.C. Open Government
group meets at Elon


The School of Communications hosted the first meeting of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition March 22. This leadership group includes many of the state's top news executives, librarians and lawyers. They have joined together to find ways to support the public's access to government in the state of North Carolina.

Nine months of groundwork went into getting the group together and prepared for its first meeting. Organizers include Melanie Sill, executive editor of The News & Observer of Raleigh.

In a recent Associated Press story, Sill explained the need for the coalition. "We're in a time where government has more and more information, electronically, that it stores and in all kinds of ways there seems to be an impulse toward secrecy," she said. "Some people who are interested (in open government) are motivated by the Patriot Act issues. Others see this as an ongoing issue."

School of Communications Advisory Board member Jim Hefner, vice president and general manager of WRAL-TV in Raleigh and WILM-TV in Wilmington, was instrumental in arranging for Elon to host the event.

The coalition is engaging itself in finding ways to make government more accessible for everyone from citizens seeking personal information to media reporters working to maintain the free flow of information that makes the United States a strong democracy. An initial task is to illuminate the best focal point for the group's first-year efforts.

Similar groups in other states have initiated a freedom-of-information audit, in which volunteers fan out across a state and measure how successful they are at gaining access to documents that should legally be available from government offices. The last time such an open-access audit was performed in North Carolina was in the late 1990s, when the N.C. Press Association and the state Associated Press checked such availability of information.

In her interview with the AP, Sill said the group does not intend for the coalition to be an organization that has an adversarial relationship with state and local governments. "We've talked about possibly cooperating on training and education for public officials and reporters and the public," she said. "Take town clerks. The public records law is not their main concern, but often you run into situations where increasing the awareness of what's public and what's not would be good for everybody."

In addition to Hefner and Sill, other board members are: Frank Barrows, managing editor of The Charlotte Observer; Ross Holt, head of reference for the Randolph County Public Library and past president of the North Carolina Library Association; Pauletta Brown Bracy of the School of Library and Information Studies at North Carolina Central University and president of the North Carolina Library Association; Charlotte lawyer Jon Buchan; Mary Klenz, president of the North Carolina League of Women Voters; Howard Lee, chairman of the North Carolina Board of Education; Dennis Milligan, news director at WBTV-TV in Charlotte; Joan Siefert Rose, general manager of WUNC-TV in Chapel Hill; Raleigh lawyer Hugh Stevens; Bob Stiff, editor of The Dispatch of Lexington; Tom Ross, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds foundation in Winston-Salem; David Jordan Wichard, publisher of The Daily Reflector of Greenville; and Sue Price Wilson, North Carolina chief of bureau for The Associated Press.



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Last Modified:  3/22/04
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