N.C. Governor moves to improve state public records policy
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper set national Sunshine Week off to a good start by releasing new draft guidance on how all levels of North Carolina government will comply with the state’s Public Records Act and Open Meetings Law.
The new guidance recognizes it is fundamentally the people of North Carolina who own government records, and making sure records are available for the public to review is a core government function. As Governor Cooper states:
State employees and officials conduct the people’s business. Our responsibility rests with following the law and providing members of the public with the information to which they are legally and ethically entitled.
By issuing strong guidance to carry out North Carolina’s sunshine laws in all the government agencies under his supervision, Governor Cooper is sending this important message to the rest of North Carolina, including local governments and the state legislature.
Record review must also be affordable to be meaningful. In a key improvement, Governor Cooper has minimized the steep record review fees routinely imposed by the McCrory Administration for all but the most minor requests.
Under the McCrory administration’s policies, citizens all across the state often faced bills for hundreds of dollars, making research unfeasible and effectively denying access to government records,” said SELC attorney Kym Hunter. “SELC and our allies fought hard to end this practice and we were delighted to reach a settlement with Governor Cooper to ensure free and open access for all. We are pleased to see him follow through with these commitments in this new guidance, which makes sure that the public can always inspect records for free.
The guidance also includes a provision that paper copies will be made available at minimal cost.
This position is an about face from the secretive practices of the McCrory administration, which had undermined state sunshine laws by routinely creating unnecessary delays and imposing high fees for accessing public documents. SELC, in a coalition with news and advocacy organizations, sued the McCrory administration for violating state sunshine laws, and as part of an August 2017 settlement of that case Governor Cooper agreed to issue this new guidance.
Part of the reason for open government is to facilitate informed citizen participation: a government that works in the open and engages with the public makes better decisions. A great way to exercise this right and celebrate sunshine week is to comment on the draft guidance itself, commending Governor Cooper for the commitment his administration is making and perhaps suggesting further improvements. The deadline to submit comments is April 9.