The Real Paul Jones

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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)

1 Comment

  1. Go, Paul! I had a great day: I got to talk about access law and, on the way back to Chapel Hill, state-level shield laws. My day was full and complete. THANKS for the updates on the access law conference!

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