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Longtime state PIO Seneca dies

Ernie Seneca, chief public information officer for the state Department of Public Safety died Friday morning, according to The Associated Press.

Seneca, who was 51, battled several forms of cancer in recent years, the AP quoted department spokeswoman Patty McQuillan saying.

Senate snubs Perdue's plans for roads fund

THEY'LL PASS: The state Senate' budget proposal ignored Gov. Bev Perdue's $94.6 million proposal to establish a fund that would help fix the Yadkin River bridge on Interstate 85 now — and tackle other big statewide transportation problems later. (N&O)

UNDER ORDERS: A top state public information officer says that he was directed by high-ranking staff of former Gov. Mike Easley to shred a letter that had been sent in 2007 to Easley from the mayor of Southport. (N&O)

MISSED BY 'THAT' MUCH: An effort by public employee unions to organize a new political party in North Carolina has fallen short. (N&O)

ABUSE INVESTIGATED: A correctional officer has been fired and two administrators reassigned at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner following an allegation of excessive force used against an inmate. (N&O)

MAYBE NOT:John Tote may not be the new director of the state's troubled mental health system after all because of concerns over his handling of finances as his nonprofit agency. (N&O)

Young keeps leaders in place

Reuben YoungReuben Young, the new secretary for the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, has decided to leave in place much of the agency's leadership.

Chief Deputy Gerald Rudisill, Deputy Secretary Jonathan Williams and Assistant Secretary Rhonda Raney will remain in their current positions, Dan Kane reports.

One change: Ernie Seneca is replacing Julia Jarema as the public affairs director. Seneca held a similar role with the Department of Transportation. Jarema is now the public information officer for N.C. Emergency Management.

Young was Mike Easley's deputy legal counsel and chief legal counsel during his two terms as governor.

Easley policy lets users trash e-mail

Under a policy set by Gov. Mike Easley, state workers can trash their own e-mail.

The policy allows users to determine themselves if an e-mail has "no administrative value." Easley's legal counsel, Andrew Vanore Jr., said this week that an e-mail's value may expire immediately if the message's sender or recipient determines it is no longer needed.

Amanda Martin, an attorney for the N.C. Press Association, challenged that claim.

"I do not believe that this policy gives public employees unfettered discretion to destroy documents at their personal whim," she said. 

State Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett sent an e-mail to about 9,500 DOT employees this week restating the policy and telling them they can delete e-mail when they want.

A review of e-mail retained by DOT spokesman Ernie Seneca showed that he has been routinely deleting messages that would be of public interest, including weekly status reports from top officials and schedules of whom he has spoken with on recent issues. (N&O)

DOT: It was all a misunderstanding

A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation says it was a misunderstanding that led security officers to temporarily deny entry this morning to a News & Observer reporter seeking to attend Board of Transportation meetings.

"That's been cleared up," said Ernie Seneca.

Seneca said the department's policy is to let his office know when reporters show up for the meetings.

Why?

"Well, you know, sometimes we like to know if the media are attending an event," Seneca said. "They may want to interview a member or staff. It's a good idea to know who's covering a particular meeting, what (media) outlets are being represented. And that's all that was intended."

DOT delays entry to public meetings

A News & Observer reporter was temporarily denied entry today to public meetings of the state Board of Transportation after two security officers said they were told the department's public information office had to be notified before any reporters could enter.

"Anything that has to do with the newspapers, TV, media we have to call (the office) before we can let you go back there," one of the security officers said.

The state's public meetings laws state that "each official meeting of a public body shall be open to the public, and any person is entitled to attend such a meeting."

There is nothing in the law that allows public agencies to delay someone's attendance until public information officers are notified.

Ernie Seneca, the department's chief public information officer, said the policy was not intended to bar or intimidate reporters trying to cover public meetings. He said the intent was for security officers to give his office a "heads up" when reporters enter the building.

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