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Coalition of media, public interest groups sue McCrory Administration

A coalition of media outlets and public policy groups filed a public records lawsuit this week against Gov. Pat McCrory and eight of his cabinet secretaries over the executive branch's response to public records requests. The allegations include excessive "service charge" fees, delays of more than a year, and providing incomplete records.   

On Tuesday a coalition of news media outlets and public policy groups filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pat McCrory and eight of his cabinet over the administration's response to public records requests. In the lawsuit, the groups allege that requests have gone unfulfilled for more than a year, that some responses have been incomplete, that other requests have not received acknowledgement, and that special service charges are being improperly assessed to requests to inspect records. 

The lawsuit alleges a widespread pattern of resistance to the Public Records Law among execuitve branch agencies. In addition to McCrory, the outlets named John Skvarla, secretary of the Department of Commerce, Donald Van Der Vaart, secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Aldona Wos, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Frank Perry, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, William Daughtridge, secretary of the Department of Administration, Anthony Tata, secretary of the Department of Trasnportation, Susan Kluttz, secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources and Lyons Gray, secretary of the Department of Revenue. 

Included in the allegations are claims that: 

  • the Independent Weekly newspaper requested copies of the governor's travel records in November 2013. The governor's office provied partial records in March 2015, but has not provided all the records requested. WRAL television made a similar request in February 2015 and has not received any records. 
  • The News & Observer requested emails related to the sale of the Dorthea Dix property to the city of Raleigh in July 2014. The newspaper did not receive any records until June 2015. A similar request to the city of Raleigh was filed much sooner. 
  • The Southern Environmental Law Center requested access to records related to implementation of the Strategic Transportation Investments Act in April 2014. Access was not provided until July 2015 after the act was fully implemented. 
  • The Southern Environmental Law Center requested records related to the expansion of Interstate 77 for high occuppancy toll lanes in January 2014. The records were not provided until May 2015, after a contract had been signed to construct the lanes. 
  • In May 2014, WRAL requested emails from the governor's office related to the State Bureau of Investigation moving from the Office of the Attorney General to the Department of Public Safety. WRAL did not receive records until June 2015 - after threatening to sue. 
  •  In April 2013, the Southern Environmental Law Center requested records related to public statements McCrory made about implementation of his "strategic mobility formula." The first group of records were provided in July 2015 - after threatending to sue. 
  • In October 2013, the Southern Enivronmental Law Center requested to inspect records of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources. The group was not allowed to inspect the records until it paid a "special service charge," even though the law only mentions special service charges in connection with copies. 
  • In August 2013, N.C. Policy Watch requested a copy of records related to a salary freeze in the Department of Health and Human Services. The records have never been provided. 
  • In 2012, The Charlotte Observer requested a database from the Office fo the State Medical Examiner. For more than a year the office repeatedly provided incomplete data. 
  • In November 2013, The observer requested email from the Office of the State Medical Examiner. When the request was fulfilled, the office withheld an email that the newspaper already knew existed and that was damaging to the agency's image. 
  • In July 2014, The Alamance News requested records from the Department of Commerce related to 14 economic development projects in Alamance County.The department provided records for one project in September 2014, and has not provided records for the other 13. 

On Tuesday night, McCrory's office responded that his administration has been "a champion of transparency" that has fulfilled more than 22,000 records requests. The response claimed that the lawsuit was an "attempt to tie up state personnel and resources that should be spent serving the people of North Carolina."   

Read the amended complaint here. News coverage from plaintiffs can be found here: WRAL, The Independent Weekly, The News & Observer and WNCN. Statements from N.C. Policy Watch and the Southern Environmental Law Center can be found here and here. The Alamance News and The Charlotte Observer also joined the lawsuit. 

Update: The Charlotte Observer followsup on the lawsuit here

Jonathan Jones,
Staff
7/23/2015 3:15 PM