(See update with a statement from UNC-Pembroke below.)
The chaos that swirls around Gov. Roy Cooper’s NC State Board of Elections (SBE) shows no sign of slowing down.
I noted last July how Gov. Cooper had lost three SBE chairs under public criticism over seven months. The middle lost chair was Joshua Malcolm last January:
His new board chair, Josh Malcolm, quickly came under fire for his numerous contacts with Democratic Bladen County Board of Elections member Jens Lutz just before last November’s election and the subsequent resistance to disclosing those contacts until reporters threatened legal action against the state board. Lutz, a former political consulting partner of alleged ballot harvester McCrae Dowless, resigned from the Bladen County elections board in early December and Malcolm removed his name from consideration for the newly reconstituted state elections board in January.
Malcolm is in the news again, this time for stepping down as general counsel at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. This would normally not be a newsworthy event. However, his resignation underscores the fact that his office has failed to comply with a ten-month-old public records request from WBTV:
UNC Pembroke has yet to produce a single record in response to WBTV’s ten month old request, despite repeatedly saying some records were ready for production and others were being reviewed.
As the university’s general counsel, Malcolm’s office has been responsible for fulfilling the records request.
The nature of Malcolm’s contacts with Lutz is important to gain a fuller understanding of what they may have known about the alleged ballot harvesting that took place in Bladen and Robeson counties in 2018 and earlier.
Under North Carolina’s public records law, government agencies (including UNC System institutions such as UNC-Pembroke) must comply with public records requests “as promptly as possible.” With Malcolm serving as general counsel, the university’s noncompliance with the public records requests from WBTV has gotten to the point where its parent company has had to file a request for a writ of mandamus (basically a court order for a government agency to do its job) with the North Carolina Superior Court.
With Joshua Malcolm out of the way, perhaps UNC-Pembroke will finally comply with North Carolina’s public records law.
UPDATE (evening of 10-15-2019): In response to this post, Jodi Weber Phelps, Interim Vice Chancellor for Advancement at UNC-Pembroke, emailed me with the following statement:
Purposefully, Joshua Malcolm has not been leading or representing the university in the public records request from WBTV. And, as this matter is currently in active litigation, the university cannot comment further.
This raises several questions. If General Counsel Malcolm is not handling the public records request from WBTV, then who is? What, if any, professional relationship does the person handling the public records request have with Malcolm? Is that person in a position to order Malcolm to turn over the requested records? Is the lack of compliance with the public records request due to UNC-Pembroke officials not cooperating with the request, or due to Malcolm not cooperating with whoever at UNC-Pembroke is working on the request?
Once the answers to those questions are available, we will better know the nature of the stonewalling WBTV has received on its public records request from the university.