The N.C. Open Government Coalition will celebrate Sunshine Day on March 20 at Elon University. Former public affairs director for the state Department of Health and Human Services, Debbie Crane, has agreed to be the luncheon speaker at the event. Crane was fired this month after an investigative series on the privatization of mental health services in the state was featured in Raleigh’s The News & Observer.
Crane has said that Governor Mike Easley’s press office often told executive branch public information officers to destroy emails after they were sent to the governor’s office. The News & Observer reports that the governor’s office legal counsel says no evidence exists that such a request was made and that other public information officers say they were unaware of the directive.
N. C. Open Government Coalition president and Associated Press Carolinas bureau chief Sue Wilson says having Crane as the luncheon keynote highlights the purpose of Sunshine Day. “On March 20th we will gather as part of the national Sunshine Week effort to foster a dialogue about open government in North Carolina. I can’t think of a better way to do this than to shed the light on controversies surrounding how open government is practiced at the highest branches of state government.”
An invitation to attend the luncheon has also been made to the governor’s office.
Other activities scheduled for the March 20th event include an interactive workshop involving a school board public records request; an overview of legal and legislative actions surrounding open government laws in the state this past year; the launch of new open government supporting documents in an effort driven by the North Carolina Press Association with the Attorney General’s office; where candidates stand on Sunshine Laws in this year’s state elections and educational materials being prepared in a cooperative effort with the N.C. League of Municipalities and the Sunshine Center at Elon.
N.C. Open Government Coalition board member and News 14 Carolina’s news director Rick Willis is working to help organize Sunshine Day. “We want to encourage stakeholders in open government to mark March 20th on their calendars and join us in celebrating the importance of access to meetings and records to our democracy. We’ve planned a series of activities to foster that goal.”
Registration for the March 20 event and information about Sunshine Week can be found at www.ncopengov.org.