Fighting the good fight
A small-town newspaper in North Carolina’s Piedmont region is taking on the role of David. The role of Goliath is being played by the N.C. General Assembly.
What’s at stake in this battle is the public’s right of access to public hospital records and freedom of the press.
This week, a state Senate subcommittee voted to approve Senate Bill 1006, which would, in effect, overturn the Wilkes County Journal-Patriot’s legal victories in a county Superior Court, N.C. Court of Appeals and N.C. Supreme Court. Sometime next week, the bill is expected to come to the Senate floor for a vote.
John W. Hubbard and Julius C. “Buddy” Hubbard Jr., co-publishers of the newspaper, contend the bill, if it becomes law, will do the following:
The newspaper spent two years in the state’s courts fighting to preserve the right to see a public hospital’s contract to purchase a doctor’s medical practice. When the newspaper won its case before the state’s highest court, the N.C. Hospital Association persuaded a state senator to file a bill that would overturn the newspaper’s victory.
The newspaper argues that if the bill becomes law, it would provide public hospitals a license to ignore state laws concerning open government.
The Hubbards are right.
That’s why other newspapers, including the Daily News, and the North Carolina Press Association urge the public — that’s you — to support the fight against Senate Bill 1006.
That fight has some allies, some of them in the General Assembly.
State Sens. Walter Dalton and David Hoyle have filed Senate Bill 1546, which sets the stage for debate over whether the public has the right to know what public employees are paid. And as this debate gets under way, the Senate’s judiciary committee will be deciding if public hospitals will be treated the same as other government entities in North Carolina are treated when it comes to disclosing how they spend public money.
Senate Bill 1546 would add all forms of compensation to the list of information that must be disclosed to the public and require that all contracts — oral or written, past or current — with government employees be disclosed.
The NCPA also opposes a bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand that would make contracts for the purchase of doctors’ medical practices secret under the North Carolina Public Records Act.
These efforts by certain people to keep the public from knowing how public money is being spent present the question: Why don’t these people want the public to know how much is being spent and why it’s being spent?
If public money is paying for something, then the people providing that money should know all details about such a transaction. North Carolina taxpayers, not just the media, should demand that public hospitals be accountable for how they spend public money. Other public bodies must do that. Public hospitals should be required to follow the same rules.
That would be good medicine.