newsobserver.com blogs

Tag search result

Tip: Clicking on tags in this page allows you to drill further with combined tag search. For example, if you are currently viewing the tag search result page for "health care", clicking on "Kay Hagan" will bring you to a list of contents that are tagged with both "health care" and "Kay Hagan."

Morning Memo: McCrory to White House; more details from strategy memo

MEMO STIRS THE N.C. POLITICAL POT: The political strategy memo from a cadre of groups aligned with Democratic causes is getting a good bit of attention for its tactics. One overlooked in all the coverage: a staff of video trackers to follow the every move of the "targets" (Pat McCrory, Thom Tillis, Phil Berger) and hiring private investigators.

McCRORY VISITING THE WHITE HOUSE: Pat McCrory is visiting Washington Friday through Monday for a series of meetings with the National Governors Association and Republican Governors Association. On Sunday, along with all governors, he will dine at the White House with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, followed by a meeting at the White House the next morning with the president.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more N.C. political news and analysis below, including more details from the anti-Republican strategy memo.

What guarantees government sunshine? A consitutional protection

North Carolina's open government laws don't hold a match to the "Sunshine Law" in Florida.

What's the biggest difference? Barbara Petersen, the president of the First Amendment Foundation in Florida, gave reporters and government officials at a panel discussion Wednesday a simple answer: It's in the Florida Constitution.

In 1992, Florida voters approved a referendum to put language guaranteeing access to public records and government meetings in the state's founding document. Petersen said it's what creates a culture of openness. Under the provisions in Section 24, the state legislature is the sole body to define what is public and open and what isn't -- which often leads to legislation closing the door on certain records. But it keeps local judges and governments from enforcing different standards, said Petersen, who spoke at Sunshine Day 2012 at Elon University. (Follow the action on Twitter @NCOpenGov.)

Open meetings and public records laws make it easier for members of the public to discover and understand their government -- and for the media to inform them about their tax dollars at work.

Broad support for open government

There is broad public support in North Carolina for government being conducted in the open, according to a new poll.

The Elon University Poll found that 81 percent support a constitutional amendment to require that all public business of any government body be open and available to the public. Only 16 percent oppose it.

A large majority (73 percent) belive  citizen access to public documents, records and meetings can influence government operations.

A majority (57 percent) said they have tried to get public documents or regards and most (84 percent) said they were successful when they tried.

The documents citizens were most likely to have attempted to obtain were police reports(72 percent) property records(69 percent), names and addresses of sex offenders (61 percent), records dealing with someone's criminal past (61 percent) and salaries of public employees (49 percent.)

Asked to name the three types of information that North Carolinians should not have access to, they said divorce court files (78 percent) driver's license records (71 percent) and government work emails (45 percent.)

The poll of 467 North Carolina residents was conducted Feb. 20-24 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percent.

Teacher ranks take a hit

LARGER CLASSES: About 3,700 fewer teachers are at work in the state's public school classrooms this year, and most of the decline is because of budget cuts that sacrificed instructors. (N&O)

PRIVACY FENCE: The state's personnel law makes it difficult to track and expose cronyism in state government. It also hides all but the most basic information about state workers. (N&O)

NEW FUND: State Treasurer Janet Cowell on Monday will announce who has been hired to administer a new Innovation Fund. That's the name given to a pool of money from the state's $67 billion pension resources that will invest in companies that have major operations in North Carolina. (AP)

Perdue lets some light in

One her first day as governor, Beverly Perdue pledged to increase government transparency.

"Government must be more accountable to the people," Perdue said in her Jan. 10 inaugural address. "The state's business must be conducted in the sunshine, to inspire confidence, not cynicism."

Perdue appears to largely be living up to that promise. She makes her weekly schedule available and frequently takes questions from reporters, and her administration released travel and other records that disclosed former Gov. Mike Easley's use of private planes and other activities.

And Wednesday, Perdue issued executive orders requiring more transparency in government. She is also expected to soon sign a bill that she backed that would force state mental hospitals to release information about those who die in the facility or within two weeks of being discharged.

But Perdue's administration continues to withhold some key records, such as reports on probationers who committed serious crimes and state employees who had sex with inmates.

"Compared to what it was, [Perdue] has been great," said Don Carrington, vice president of the conservative John Locke Foundation, who said the Easley administration routinely rebuffed his calls and requests for documents. "They return calls and acknowledge requests." (N&O)

On the other hand, employees at the state's psychiatric hospital in Goldsboro could face discipline if they say negative things about its staff or operations.

Cherry Hospital has landed in trouble in the past few years for patient abuse and neglect, with some of problems coming to light because workers spoke publicly. (N&O)

Records bill has foes

Lobbyists for North Carolina's local government officials are resisting legislation that would force governments to pay legal fees after losing a lawsuit to release documents.

The House Finance Committee on Wednesday again considers a bill that would make it easier for news media outlets and individuals suing in public records lawsuits to collect attorney fees if the documents are released.

Judges now can deny the payment if they think the government body has substantial justification to deny access.

Lobbyists say more than 1,500 state and local government agencies, boards and commissions would be subject to the law. The bill would have to clear votes in the committee, the full House and then the Senate, which approved a similar measure last year. (AP)

Closed meeting talk died down

Members of the state Wildlife Resources Commission discussed closing committee meetings to the public because they did not like what a bowhunting group was saying about the meetings.

Commission chairman Wes Seegars said Tuesday that the commission has always been committed to openness. But members did not appreciate what the N.C. Bowhunters Association had told its members about a proposal to alter the rules of deer hunting season.

"Our concern has just always been disseminate the correct information," Seegars said. "We don't have a problem with anybody sitting in and being a part of it."

The commission regulates hunting and fishing. Seegars said the state has some 800,000 licensed sportsmen and sportswomen.

Committee meetings, Seegars said, allow an open exchange, and discussion at a meeting doesn't necessarily mean an idea will become a change to the rules.

"Committee meetings are where we thrash around a lot of ideas," Seegars said.

After members of one of the commission's committees discussed extending gun hunting season into what had traditionally been bow hunting season, bowhunters flooded the commission with comments.

Seegars said that episode prompted commisison members to discuss closing committee meetings off to invited guests only. The discussion died down, Seegars said.

More after the jump.

Hackney favors another run at records bill

House Speaker Joe Hackney says he is willing to take another run at a bill that would award legal fees to those who win in public records lawsuits.

Open government types and news organizations sometimes complain that the expense of successfully suing a governmental body or agency over public records disputes discourages such lawsuits. They say that automatically awarding legal fees would give government officials pause before restricting the public's access to records. 

A bill that would automatically award fees in such cases sailed through the Senate but died in the House last session. Bill Holmes, a spokesman for Hackney, said the Speaker is interested in passing a bill that would allow automatic recovery of costs as long as it wouldn't strip all discretion away from judges.

"He just wants to make sure the fees are reasonable," Holmes said. "There's no other area of law in North Carolina that allows for automatic recovery of fees."

Will the House show get the greenlight?

A committee convened to look at televising debate at the state House of Representatives recommends broadcasting on the Internet, assuming the legislature can afford it.

The committee has all but finished a report on the issue and has set out a series of recommendations guiding how to start and run the House show. The plan would be to wire certain committee rooms and the House chamber and install broadcast quality video cameras. The video would be broadcast on the Internet with lower quality, but television stations would have access to video for news casts.

The catch is all that buying and setting up all that equipment could cost $1.3 million. It's a small fraction of the state's $21.5 billion budget, but lawmakers are bracing for a deficit next year that could be as high as $3 billion.

House Speaker Joe Hackney is keen on getting the House on television.

"As soon as there is money for it and as soon as it can get done, the Speaker wants it done," said Bill Holmes, a spokesman for Hackney.

The committee recommended that the House begin with Web-only broadcast, but work toward finding a place on television for them. Policies governing the broadcasts, such as editorial policies, would be set out by the speaker, and the minority and majority leaders, the committee recommended.

House webcasts would cost $1.3 m

Delivering video of state House of Representatives sessions to computers would cost $1.3 million in the first year and another $500,000 after that.

The bulk of the money for creating the House show would go to equipment, wiring and set up costs, according to legislative staff research. The recurring costs would pay for maintenance, closed captioning and staff time.

The goal, said state Rep. Cullie Tarleton, is an open, accessible government.

"All of us want total, complete openness and transparency," said Tarleton, a Blowing Rock Democrat.

Tarleton is chairman of a House committee studying what it would take to broadcast or webcast video of the House's work. Committee members on Wednesday said they supported starting with video on the Web, but buying equipment that would make it easier to eventually show sessions on television. The higher-end video cameras would also allow the news media to use video clips.

Of course, the projected state budget deficit of $2 billion or more might make the House's video plans a tough sell. The other problem, at least for now, is that the Senate has no parallel effort in place.

So broadcasting House sessions would only make state government 50 percent transparent. More like opaque, really.

More after the jump.

Cars View All
Find a Car
Go
Jobs View All
Find a Job
Go
Homes View All
Find a Home
Go

Want to post a comment?

In order to join the conversation, you must be a member of dome.newsobserver.com. Click here to register or to log in.
Advertisements