We are the Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition. If you are a records or meetings holder or someone seeking access to records or meetings, we hope this site will be a useful resource. Check out our educational resources about open government.
With the General Assembly back in Raleigh for the biannual short session, the legislature is once again considering bills that would effect government transparency. So far they've passed four new exemptions to the Public Records Law, including one for body-worn camera and dash camera video collected by law enforcement.
A bill that removes all police video, including body cameras, dash cameras and surveillance, from public records passed the House and Senate this week. It creates a limited right of access for people who appear in the videos and allows a superior court judge to release the video if there's a compelling public interest.
Superior Court Judge Carla Archie told Belmont Tuesday to turn over to the court a copy of an independent investigative report into the city's police department that led to the firing of the chief and resignations of two other officers. The document is at the center of a public records lawsuit. The city contends it is protected as a personnel record. The siblings who asked for the file contend it is outside the scope of the personnel law.
Freelance writer and N.C. Open Government Coalition member Tom Bennett conducted a review of how easy it is to access basic information about county commissioners in 28 western counties. He found that some counties, such as Catawba, make it easy for citizens to keep tabs on their government, and others have a long way to go.
The winners of the Second Annual N.C. Open Government Coalition Sunshine Award Contest were announced Monday in Hickory. They are Henderson County Attorney Charles Russell Burrell, WRAL.com reporter Tyler Dukes and Carolina Public Press Open Government Contributor Jon Elliston.
Charleston Post & Courier Executive Editor Mitch Pugh will deliver the Sunshine Day 2016 keynote on March 14 in Hickory. Join us for updates on the North Carolina Public Records Law, discussion of police use of video and our second annual awards program
On Monday, Judge Mike O'Foghludha ordered the Alamance-Burlington School System to release one paragraph out of 40 pages of closed session minutes from a 2014 meeting during which Superintendent Lillie Cox resigned with a $200,000 severance package. The order was stayed to give the school system time to appeal the decision in the long-running open records case.
The Sunshine Center of the N.C. Open Government Coalition is accepting nominations for its Sunshine Awards program. Winners will be honored at Sunshine Day 2016 in March.
The Hildebran Heritage & Development Association appealed a superior court judge's decision not to overturn the results of a town of Hildebran meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Law. The town council voted at the end of January to demolish an old school after improperly discussing the matter in an October closed meeting.
Jonathan D. Jones, director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition and an instructor in Elon University's School of Communications, authored a guest column for several North Carolina newspapers about recent changes to state public record laws.
Lawmakers added several new exemptions to the public records law related to school safety during the budget bill compromise discussions. The bill unveiled Monday night would exempt anonymous safety tips made to school systems and a new statewide database. The expansion of the terrorism exemption to include law enforcements response to organized criminal activity survived budget negotiations as well.
The city of Belmont hired an outside firm to investigate complaints about conduct and management of its police department. The police chief was fired following the investigation, but the city has refused to release the investigative report.
The N.C. Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeals Friday in a public records case brought by LexisNexis against the Administrative Office of the Courts. LexisNexis was seeking access to the Automated Criminal Infractions System (ACIS) database. The Supreme Court found that a separate statute governs access to court system records so the Public Records Law does not apply, and the separate statute allows the court system to enter into exclusive contracts for access.
This page will be updated periodically with the status of bills currently in the General Assembly that could affect government transparency. The General Assembly has created seven new records exemptions so far.
The General Assembly has passed its seventh new exemption to the Public Records Law this session, this time creating limitations about what information can be released about law enforcement personnel. The new limitations exempt records of first responders' cellphones and law enforcement officers' addresses, and other "identifying information."
The General Assembly passed a bill that would create a 100-year time limit on exemptions to the Public Records Law, regardless of the reason. The Department of Cultural Resources requested the change to reopen some 19th and 20th century records in the State Archives. Another provision of the bill will also settle who owns the rights to visual images of shipwrecks.
Community activists filed a lawsuit earlier this year against Hildebran alleging the Burke County town violated several laws, including the open meetings law, in deciding to tear down an old school. Following a trial, Superior Court Judge Joe Crosswhite ruled the town council violated the Open Meetings Law but the violation did not effect the board's decision to demolish the school.
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.
The Court of Appeals Tuesday provided significant guidance for trial courts reviewing disputes over access to closed session minutes. The court also clarified that when closed sessions are held for personnel that any policy or political discussions will be public. The decision came in a case brought by the Times-News of Burlington against the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education.
The Senate's amendments to the House's budget bill include a significant expansion of the exemption to the public records law that is often referred to as the "terrorism exemption."
The UNC Chapel Hill Foundation, which manages $352 million of the university's funds, recently filed a Form 990 with the IRS for 2013-14 for the first time since 2007. The foundation had claimed exemption from the IRS' reporting requirements as a government affiliated entity. Chancellor Folt announced last fall that the foundation would return to the practice of filing disclosures.
Retired General David Petraeus pleaded guilty in Charlotte last week to leaking classified materials to his mistress and biographer. The sentencing report, which is typically public, was sealed in Petraeus' case. The Charlotte Observer, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, New York Times, NPR, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal joined together to request the documents be made public.
A bill that creates a broad, new exemption for videos collected by police body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras passed the N.C. House today 115-2. The revised bill gives discretion to police departments on withholding video from dashboard cameras and body cameras. It also makes clear the videos are not subject to personnel privacy rules.
A House Bill filed Tuesday would make clear in the Public Records Act that law enforcement agencies have discretion to release body-worn camera video. Some agencies believe they are prohibited by personnel privacy protections. The law would not require that the videos be released.
A three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Monday in a public records dispute over minutes of closed sessions held by the Alamance-Burlington School System Board of Education. The board has declined to release un-redacted minutes of closed sessions for personnel purposes when it met to discuss the departure and $200,000 severance package of former Superintendent Lillie Cox. The Times-News filed a lawsuit to gain access.
Wednesday was the deadline for members of the N.C. House of Representatives to file bills for the 2015 General Assembly. Like the Senate deadline last week, the House deadline attracted a number of bills effecting transparency, including a proposal for a joint legislative commission to study transparency improvements. House members also proposed two new exemptions.
More than a dozen bills introduced in the final hours before Thursday's filing deadline would affect transparency in North Carolina. They include eight new records exemptions, a pair of new transparency initiatives, several clarifications on who is subject to the public records law and a special rule that allows law enforcement personnel to have certain personal information removed form government websites.
A bill filed Thursday in the Senate would limit the right of access created by the Public Records Act to "citizens" of North Carolina. The law currently allows access for "any person" regardless of whether they are state residents.
The Civitas Institute filed a public records lawsuit this week against the Alamance County Board of Elections after the county attorney insisted that a representative of the group inspect records in person before copies would be made. The lawsuit raises the question of whether a government agency putting additional conditions on a records request prior to fulfilling it amounts to a refusal.
The results of a multi-newsroom public records audit are in. Led by WRAL's public records team, six news outlets asked state and local government officials for the same documents to see how quickly different agencies complied. Also, the NFL files a lawsuit against court officials to get access to records in Greg Hardy case.
Today's Sunshine Week news includes a Salisbury Post look at closed sessions, a WRAL story on how to obtain military records, a pair of Q&A sessions with N.C. Open Government Coalition director Jonathan Jones and StarNews Executive Editor Pam Sander explaining the importance of records requests to the newspaper.
Today is Sunshine Day in Durham. We continue our daily wrapup of Sunshine Week related news and views from across the state. Today's highlights include a story on economic development incentive records from The Charlotte Observer and editorials from several newspapers.
At Sunshine Day in Durham, the N.C. Open Government Coalition today announced the winners of its inaugural awards program in four categories: Advocacy, Government, Journalism, Citizen.
Today kicks off the annual Sunshine Week program and media outlets across the state have stories highligting right to know issues. We'll put together a daily roundup this week. Today's stories include an Associated Press report on fees, delays out of the governor's office and a Carolina Public Press report on closed sessions in the western counties.
Registration for Sunshine Day 2015 is open and ongoing. This year's event will be at the Durham Convention Center on March 16. It includes a keynote speech from Attorney General Roy Cooper and the inaugaration of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition's awards program.
While most people in the latest Elon University Poll approved of police officers wearing body cameras, when respondents were asked whether the video footage itself should be made available for public inspection, patterns started to vary based on political ideology and race.
Some contracts entered into by the State Ports Authority would no longer be public records under a bill filed last week.
The UNC System Board of Governors voted Friday to close three academic centers on three different campuses. Prior to the vote, the board moved into a smaller room after several audience outbursts. They allowed the press to attend, but did not allow the general public into the relocated meeting.
The Department of Cultural Resources issued a new records retention policy Thursday for municipal law enforcement agencies that is intended to cover body-worn video recordings. Videos that are not part of an investigative file, citizen complaint or internal affairs investigation should be destroyed after 30 days.
The Daily Tar Heel: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Foundation declined to fulfill a public records request claiming it was not subject to the public records law because it is a non-profit organization and not a government agency. The foundation has not filed a Form 990 financial disclosure since 2008 because it claims to be exempt from the Internal Revenue Service's reporting rules as a government affiliated non-profit.
Fayetteville Observer: Robeson County commissioners approved a tax incentives package Monday for "Project Apple" without identifying the company behind the proposal. The Open Meetings Law prohibits boards from taking actions by reference when the intent is to make it impossible for the public to understand what is being decided.
A bill working its way through the General Assembly would require the Academic Standards Review Commission - a recently established state group that is reviewing Common Core standards - to live stream its meetings. The commission would also be required to post all meeting materials online.
As part of a pilot to bring greater access to court files, the Mecklenburg Clerk of Superior Court is plans to place documents from high profile cases online this month. The first two cases include a domestic violence charge against a Carolina Panthers player and a manslaughter charge against a former police officer.
After initially declining the Times-News's request for an expedited appeal of its public records suit against the Alamance-Burlington School System, the Court of Appeals this week set a short schedule for the attorneys to file and indicated the case would be put on the first available docket. The N.C. Supreme Court instructed the Court of Appeals to reconsider providing an expedited review last week.
The Capitol Hound project of UNC's Reese News Lab won a $50,000 award. Capitol Hound creates keyword searchable transcripts and email alerts of General Assembly hearings. With the grant, the service will be given to news outlets across the state free of charge to improve statehouse coverage.
Charlotte Observer: A majority of the Charlotte City Council attended a Google sponsored reception Wednesday that was closed to the public, raising concerns that the event violated the N.C. Open Meetings Law
The Times-News of Burlington is seeking review by the state supreme court of an order denying access to closed-session minutes of the Alamance-Burlington School System's Board of Education. The newspaper filed a lawsuit against the school in October after the board refused to provide unredacted minutes from May meetings where the performance of Superintendent Lillie Cox was discussed. Cox resigned and was given a $200,000 severance package.
In 2008 Carolinas Healthcare System filed a lawsuit against Wachovia, which was settled in 2012 with a confidential agreement. Attorney Gary Jackson sought a copy of the agreement under the N.C. Public Records Act, which specifically designates settlement agreements as public. CHS declined to provide it and a trial court found it was exempt because the lawsuit was initiated by CHS. On Wednesday the Court of Appeals affirmed that settlement agreements are public records regardless of who initiates the lawsuit.
In the wake of an exhaustive investigation into acjademic irregularities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chancellor Carol Folt said in October that nine employees would be disciplined or fired. When the university refused to identify the nine employees, in contravention of the Public Records Act and the State Personnel System Act, a coalition of 10 media outlets sued. On Wednesday, the university identified the four employees it is seeking to fire and agreed to identify the other five employees if disciplinary actions are upheld following administrative appeals.