• 63°

Guest columnists: History-making access to state, local government records within reach

By Sandy Hurley and Bill Moss 

When the 2021 session of the N.C. General Assembly began, passage of legislation to advance public access to records of disciplinary actions taken by those employed by taxpayers in state and local government seemed like a longshot.

Long a priority of North Carolina newspapers on behalf of the state’s citizens, improved access to public employee personnel records had been more aspirational than reality-based.

Fast forward through nine months of public hearings at the state Capitol, careful tweaks that preserved the legislation’s purpose and procedural moves by Senate Republicans to nudge passage of the bill and the General Assembly stands on the verge of making the most important advance in the public’s right to know in recent history: the Government Transparency Act of 2021.

It’s historic because North Carolina state law has kept the public in the dark about state and local government personnel employee misconduct like almost no other state. Currently, North Carolina is in the bottom five states in the country when it comes to the taxpayers’ right to see basic records of disciplinary actions taken against state and local government employees — everyone from public school teachers and administrators to law enforcement officers. Opening these records would hold state and local government more accountable by giving the taxpaying public a general description of the reasons for suspensions (with or without pay), transfers, demotions and terminations of public employees whose misconduct — from sexual molesting or assault of students by teachers to misuse of force by police officers — triggered the disciplinary action.

Legislative efforts have been under way for 25 years to make these records available, if for no other reason than to ensure confidence in government. And sure enough, the same groups that opposed this legislation from the outset — the state employees and public school teachers, and now the Teamsters Union — have blocked passage.

It’s unknowable how many public employees and school teachers actually endorse their lobbyists’ effort to keep personnel files secret. Our guess is that the vast majority of them — hard-working employees dedicated to their jobs and their communities — do not oppose unlocking the work records of those who give their profession a black eye through criminal activity, reckless action or indolence.

Now at long last, with the North Carolina Senate’s passage of the latest effort to advance this vital part of the public’s right to know — in the form of House Bill 64 — the North Carolina House of Representatives has a chance to make history. It can finish the job on this legislation by adopting the bill as drafted. And with HB 64 scheduled to be heard in the House this week — for what could be final passage — we urge North Carolinians to contact their House member and ask them to support the legislation. The bill would finally give taxpayers access to the disciplinary records they deserve to see, a right of access that has inspired confidence in government and been enjoyed by citizens in 40 other states for decades.

North Carolina’s taxpayers, after all, are the ultimate hirers and funders of rank and file local and state employees, their supervisors and the supervisors’ supervisors. Those taxpayers have a right to know what went wrong when one of their employees is shown the door.

Sandy Hurley, president of the N.C. Press Association, is the group regional publisher of Mount Airy Media APG East TN/NC. Bill Moss, chair of the NCPA’s Legislative Committee, is editor and publisher of the Hendersonville Lightning.

Comments

Business

Umami Downtown aims to bring bold flavors to Main Street

Education

RSS Board of Education discusses latest draft of school justice partnership

China Grove

Touting experience, Don Bringle looks to retain seat on China Grove Town Council

Crime

Jury selection begins in trial of man charged with killing father

High School

High school football: Freeman a surprise weapon for Hornets

News

North Carolina’s $25 reward helped boost COVID vaccinations

BREAKING NEWS

RSS makes masks optional, plans to revisit decision in November

Elections

Rowan, Cabarrus, Stanly GOP host U.S. Senate forum in Gold Hill for registered Republicans only

Crime

Juvenile shot Saturday expected to make full recovery

Crime

Blotter: Homeless man jailed after throwing rocks through woman’s front door

Local

Political Notebook: Rowan County elections supervisor speaks out after debate to replace him

Crime

Blotter: Kannapolis man charged with involuntary manslaughter

Ask Us

Ask Us: What are current enrollment numbers for Rowan-Salisbury Schools?

News

Airplane makes emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham Airport

News

Race-blind redistricting? Democrats incredulous at GOP maps

Local

‘Stories behind these squares’: Town of Cleveland unveils country’s barn quilt mural, trail

Local

Mayoral candidates Alexander, Heggins discuss ‘Fame,’ protesting, pandemic

Education

Supporters of former Knox assistant principal speak up after resignation

Local

Volunteers focus on South Ellis Street for 11th annual BlockWork program

Education

Accounting firm to present annual school district audit report Monday

Lifestyle

Rowan Rockhounds Composite Youth Mountain Bike Team meetings set

Faith

Faith briefs: Barbecue fundraiser, harvest festival set for Nov. 6

Business

A hidden gem on Highway 29, Fusion Salon celebrates more than 15 years in business

Education

Walser honored by Smart Start Rowan