The Real Paul Jones

Accept no substitutes

Date: 3/15/2007

Open Government part 3

Cathy Packer, media law prof and colleague at UNC

Leah Freeman Friedman – news and observer covering chatham

Gretchen Lothrop – of chatham county

Moderator – Anthony Hatcher of Elon

Running low on batteries so expect drop off in the midst of it all.

summary of lothrop v chatham county against the county board of elections and elections director. in 2005 – 2006

citizen access advocacy by GL. about selecting voting machines at first. chatham was looking at touch screens. she and other citizens met resistance in getting info and access. but a compromise was made in an unannounced elections meeting and in a quickly announced comissioners meeting. GL’s first time trying to get access to pubic info. so she was surprised that no minutes were kept etc — supposedly.

LF has a long history of denial of access to public meeting records. one abstention by Barnes was the subject. Barnes had been pulled into a personell meetings. the closed session meetings are recorded and after the reasons for closure should have been opened. once she got access, the tape was particially erased — conveniently. Barnes filled in the blanks as best he could — october 2005. background for north chatham gerrymandering discussed. and the record of hankypanky on voting rules discussed. imperious performance by Board of Elections chair detailed and which lead to a determined effort to get records. did LF have an easier time getting records because she’s got hot lawyers? yes. board of elections would only refer her to their atty. same for GL. BoE claimed ignorance later.

Jan 17th meeting was supposedly an emergency meeting so they thought that they were okay. they being the BoE. CP makes fun of the use of emergency meeting ploy. and she details the law and the judge’s response. march 7th mtg was closed. no notice and did not follow closure procedures and kept no minutes. CP describes the various legal access to minutes and to minutes including drafts.

MT (from earlier session) was the lawyer for GL and LF. Help America Vote Act causes some deadline pressure – real or perceived. MT says that altho the Commisioners were wrong they were not sued in this case. MT goes into further details.

GL praises the part of journalists on this. MT won on almost every point — except atty fees and nullification. CP reads an email form the county atty who says that “err i can’t come but everyone was innocent and confused. the plaintifs (he says) prevailed on some points and lost on others” laughter ensues. LF talks about the revoting by the Commissioners (and BoE?). MT says they were asked to go to mediation. err this isn’t a mediation issue. they go to meetings for mediation and it was empty. but there it was in the judges chambers. more details given by MT. access fees now discussed. GL is incredulous about the claim that the folks on the BoE were and still are ignorant of the law. The email from the county atty really sets her off. She represented over 100 citizens working together. Stonewalling of BoE detailed with supporting documents — by GL.

less than 13 minutes of battery left. county attys bill at $120K per year? LF did a story on the fees. see n and o stories for details. COunty atty is no longer the county atty. elections changed the commissioners and a number of innovations were instituted. including more citizen meetings and getting educated about citizen access. open government candidates won. county atty retired. he had had a side business in real estate closings notes GL.

should there be mandatory training for public officials on open records? has there been change in access since the law suit? yes and no. LF is now looking at emails and the county manager sends the email weekly. the pittsboro town manager who has since been fired claimed it wasnt possible. bye to him for other reasons.
charlotte oberver reporter – verla insko was opposed to taping closed meetings as he specificially recalls. anders and nando wanted access to cd spangler’s emails. cd opposed because of hte personal nature of his emails. the next day there was a big meeting about rolling back open access laws.

LF does not use email for private communications. CD acted like they wanted to see his underwear, says CP.

Once you are known, LF, does that mean that you lose or gain sources? both of course. does it damage relationships with her sources. she wants records not gossip.

outta power… no outlets in teh auditorium. see you later

Notes with power restored ;-> The members of the Chatham County Board of Elections and the County Atty involved in the suit were invited to participate in this session. One replied that she/he would attend, but was not there. The email refered to above from the atty was in part to turn down the invite.

Charlotte Observer has a Sunshine Week collection of stories and blog
(thanks to great JOMC Librarian Barbara S for the link)

Open Government part 2

Public response to open records. Connie Book — associate dean at Elon and director of the Sunshine Center. Talks about Elon Poll.

Southeastern states Feb 18 – March 3. 37% are aware of sunshine laws. at NC only 26%. NC only above SC in the southeast. Florida number 1 with 55% aware.

is access important 57% and including very important then 90+ agree

Not yet posted on the Elon Poll site. There should be data later.

Interest in local and state 37% say a lot of interest in — higher if interest included

11% of NC feel they have no access to state and local gov

awareness begins at 23 and drops at 65. more education more aware. males more than females. independents most aware. if you made more thand $200K you was as less aware as those under $10K.

Ken G thinks about strategic planning (UNC J-school grad). he talks too. he’s from PR. makes funny chapel hill and jesse helms joke. interprets data. educate at younger level — Ken says. high school teachers and interested publics should be education targets. newspaper and internet sites are stategic for education. value prop is what’s in this for me? to the average NC citizen. for the government educated the gatekeepers. aim for tolerance and not for acceptance.

? about civil liberties and polling. could elon poll and ncpa include civil liberties be included. close call, slam dunk, broad questions. etc. a bit about secrecy and terrorism etc and the need for secret.

? in some states citizens can appeal to the atty general or a compliance officer. in florida they have such a person is that why the awareness is higher. in nc only for public officials. usually public officials won’t ask for a ruling. nc needs some way to provide support if the scope would or could be focused in some way. JimHefner says that the open gov laws in NC aren’t so bad but atty fees and the like are the barriers. Hugh (of law firm??). the coalition will not lobby as part of their mission. but we can talk.

Cathy Packer: some states have an office of public information where you can go to to get access. is this part of the atty general? ny state one is independent of governor and atty general.

training IT department managers need training and support or the requests will fail because hte IT folks are overworked (in reality or in fiction).

At Open Government mtg At Elon

So far beautiful campus, open wireless, closeby coffee (Starbucks dressed up to look like an independent), great building, full house. Being introduced to the Sunshine Center and the NC Open Government Coalition.

Brooke Barnett intros the panel. Mike Tadych — current issues and the law, Beth Grace – NCPA — citizen representation, Steve Riley of N and O — Sunshne Week coverage.

Laws are for the people — not necessarily for media — abusive cost and fees for public records are the big barrier. Government lawyers don’t seem to want to follow the open records laws driving up costs. reluctance in awarding fees by courts. Lothrop v Chatham County is the case. Stout v Whisoering Pines costs to plaintives was $35K. no cost awarded. Outer Banks Sentinel v Kitty Hawk. Burlington v Alamance News. the News sued by the city. the city could not sue. but cost the paper $48k. paper got $38k?

problems: lack of training, economic incentives (hypersecret as in dell and google), public/private partnerships hide public actions, for more.

Beth Grace – public records audit (thanks to all who worked on this). discusses how the audit works. this year no one was arrested! but apparently no one in governments can download emails. emails meet the most resistance. in one case, the police couldn’t download email but they could go to their offices and send a note to the government listserv to warn others that the audit was underway. delays and rerouting to the supertendants is normal. overall the results were improved since 1999.

Steve Riley – on his Sunshine Week projects. recognizes the League of Woman Voters. Head is still waiting for response for the Durham School Board… N and O used volunteers instead of reporters to see how citizens got responses. Problems of dealing with non-professionals. Bills and costs are mentioned as big barriers to citizens. What is the recourse for citizens? If volunteers go to places that have not been visited in the past 6 months, they will likely say no. Post lawsuit in Chatham County resulted in good response from those agencies. Get agencies used to complying. Durham is an exception. They get a lot of requests but they still deny. Especially to volunteer requests. Every sheriff’s dept and police chief gave up cell phone records on requests (as required by law). Some volunteers were nervous especially in small towns.

Questions: Records are hidden in personel files? yes says MT. in manteo for example, the chief challenged MT when he said that personel records are in part must be revealed. another in Columbus County. SR says that sharing with personal lawyers can be used to deny access via client privs. MT says that the law firm in Kitty Hawk stamped every paper as “not a public record” of course legally they are public records.

Return rate is higher this year says BG. last time overall compliance was 20%. but this time less sheriff’s and police. overall no real comparison because the questions were so different. Next time fewer questions. now 6 and will become 4 or so.

BG on charges. actual costs are the rule. she hasn’t seen excessive charges this time. CDs used for free download. (from audience) I wonder if they were warned. listserv mentioned. SR — DHHS charges $1000 for a small amount of work. SR and NandO eventually prevailed

About the listserv. in what county. town clerk. in the previous survey a fax blast went out and killed compliance rate.

37 responses in 50 counties. school districts were the worst at compliance. 60 agencies surveyed (?)

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