Public records — public property

Published 6:09 pm Thursday, May 5, 2016



It’s frustrating, if not down right rude, when requests regarding public records are ignored.

Many such requests are made by news media entities, but ordinary people also make requests for information contained in public records. Even the phrase “public records” establishes who owns those records — the public. That’s you, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or unaffiliated resident.

In fact, denying someone access to public records is against the law. A public body — town council, school board or even the North Carolina General Assembly — does not have to respond to a request to access public records right away. That access can be provided with a reasonable time. And remember, the custodian of public records cannot ask for identification or why one wants the information.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration attempted to have a lawsuit filed by several media organizations dismissed. The lawsuit alleges “patterns and practices of delay, obfuscation, non-responsiveness, foot-dragging and stonewalling.” In a ruling last week, Superior Court Judge John Craig rejected the administration’s request to toss out the lawsuit. The administration is appealing his decision.

According to the News & Observer of Raleigh, open-government experts believe McCrory’s team is routinely dragging its feet on requests for public records. In his ruling, Craig wrote the “public records are the property of the people” and that requests for public records must be fulfilled.

Several years ago, the North Carolina Press Association and newspapers across the state participated in an exercise to see how public officials and public bodies responded to requests to access public records. There were some problems. One sheriff told a reporter he would determine what information would be provided to her, if any.

That’s part of the problem — an official believing public records are his or her property. Wrong, sheriff. Public records belong to those who put officials in office, and those who voted against them, not to mention those who did not vote.

When running for governor, McCrory called for transparency in government. Perhaps his dictionary has another definition for transparency, one that means denying or delaying the public’s access to public records. Somebody give the governor a dictionary that properly defines transparency in government.