The N&O published an editorial commemorating “sunshine week” – serving to highlight the importance of government transparency and the public’s ability to view public document upon request.
This is Sunshine Week, during which advocates of open government celebrate the blessing of open records. Those advocates include The News & Observer and other news organizations that represent the public as they pursue in specific the disclosure of public records that the people have a right to see.
Make no mistake. This is not about just news organizations. All members of the public have the right to make requests of public agencies for records that are by law their right to have.
But as The News & Observer’s Joseph Neff reported, in far too many cases, it takes months to get records that properly should be offered in weeks at most.
Here’s the public’s understandable reaction when state officials delay or simply avoid the release of public data: What do they not want us to know?
On that, we wholeheartedly agree. Indeed, Civitas has several years experience now in getting the runaround from state government officials; their stalling routine has become pretty predictable and near universal.
So it is interesting to note this in context of Civitas’ repeated public records requests of the UNC Poverty Center and its head, Gene Nichol. As the N&O noted, the reaction is “understandable” to ask “what do they not want us to know?” when the public gets stonewalled in its request for public documents. But that’s not how several university professors saw it last December when Civitas was requesting public documents regarding the Poverty Center – indeed we often were referred to as “bullies“, even by some of these very same “other news organizations” that claim to champion open public records.
Once we finally did obtain the records we had requested, we started to see answers to our question of “what do they not want us to know?”, including possible violations of the university’s open meetings rules.