From the Charlotte Observer (3/13/11): When the City Council meeting ended, all the council members filed into Charlotte Mayor John Belk's office. They wanted to talk in private about building a parking garage. Observer reporter Bill Arthur plunked down on the couch.
“They’re looking around, saying, ‘What are we going to do about him?'” Arthur recalled on Friday. “They were very polite about it and said, ‘You need to leave.’ I said, ‘You sure you want to do this?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.'”
The date was Dec. 6, 1971. Just months earlier, the legislature had passed a law forbidding publicly elected bodies from meeting privately except under certain exceptions.
Arthur, with the help of the Society of Professional Journalists and Charlotte lawyer Paul Whitfield, sued. Superior Court Judge Frank Snepp ultimately ruled in Arthur’s favor. Snepp said the law “clearly states … it is the public policy of North Carolina that the business of legislative and executive bodies be conducted in meetings open to the public.”
As Sunshine Week kicks off today, Observer reporters and editors are reflecting on our mission to be truth-tellers to the public and aggressive watchdogs of those in power. That means persistently fighting for government meetings and documents to be open to the public, a cause as worthy and necessary today as when Bill Arthur fought for it 40 years ago.