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.
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.
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.
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."
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.