Carolina Journal News Reports
CJ Series

Open Government

Articles about transparency, public records, and other issues important for North Carolinians who want to keep tabs on the operations of state and local government.

(11.17.15) Chancellors’ Raises on Legislative Agenda
CHAPEL HILL — The UNC Board of Governors’ Oct. 30 closed-session vote to increase pay for 12 chancellors — which passed by a narrow 16-13 margin — will face the scrutiny of the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building. The pay raises brought protests from legislative leaders who dubbed the action unlawful.

(11.13.15) Lawmakers Will See Minutes of UNC Closed Meeting
CHAPEL HILL — Amid questions about legislative interference in the actions of the UNC Board of Governors, the board voted Friday to make records of its controversial Oct. 30 meeting available for review by members of the General Assembly. The request by state Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore was made under the state's open meetings law.

(9.24.15) Making Spending Visible and Trackable
A new Web portal will make it easier for citizens, researchers, and policymakers to see how much each unit of North Carolina government is spending, and on what.

(8.06.15) Transparency Should Be A State Priority
The complexity and expense of modern government makes placing all government spending information online and on an easy-to-access website a necessity.

(7.30.15) Release the Records, Gov. McCrory
No public official has the power to decide how the public's business is reported, nor whether it will comply with requests for public information.

(7.21.15) Brock: Fiscal Transparency Site Should Be No Burden
RALEIGH — Concerns about the costs of a fiscal transparency measure in the Senate budget raised by local governments and some McCrory administration officials are misplaced, says Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, who introduced the plan. “We’ve been talking about letting the people see the government’s ledgers since Gov. [Jim] Holshouser’s inaugural speech” in 1973, Brock told Carolina Journal.

(4.07.15) Appeals Court Hears Arguments In Alamance Records Case
RALEIGH — The Times-News of Burlington wants minutes from a closed session of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education discussing the departure of former school Superintendent Lillie Cox, who resigned and received more than $200,000 in severance a few months after her contract was renewed. The deal also included a provision that neither the board nor Cox would discuss the reasons for her dismissal and severance.

(3.20.15) Appeals Court Schedules Alamance School Records Hearing
RALEIGH — The Times-News newspaper of Burlington sued the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education for copies of closed meeting minutes at which a report was released about questionable activities by then-Superintendent Lillie Cox in preparation for a vote to fire her. Cox subsequently resigned when the board went into open session. On April 6, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case.

(3.18.15) House Rule Could Prevent Last-Minute Committee Surprises
RALEIGH — The new rule says that updated versions of legislation to be considered in committee — in legislative jargon known as a proposed committee substitute, or PCS — must be transmitted to committee members and to the bill’s sponsor by 9 p.m. the night before a committee meeting. House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis said the PCS also would be available electronically to members of the public.

(2.12.15) Appeals Court Ordered To Hear School Records Case
RALEIGH — The Times-News of Burlington sued the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education to obtain minutes from closed meetings at which the board voted 4-0 to fire former superintendent Lillie Cox before she resigned. Cox was awarded more than $200,000 in severance. The school board has provided only partial minutes.

(1.07.14) Klingon Letter Not the Only Odd Dealings In Indian Trail
INDIAN TRAIL — When Indian Trail Councilman David Waddell chose to submit his resignation from the council in Klingon — the fictional language of the aliens from the “Star Trek” franchise — it was just one of many unusual things going on in the bedroom community near Charlotte.

(9.18.13) Lawsuit Claims Panthers Negotiations Broke Open Meetings Law
CHARLOTTE — According to transcripts of a Feb. 8 closed session of the Charlotte City Council, board members discussed renovations to the stadium where the NFL’s Carolina Panthers play. They also discussed asking the General Assembly to increase the city’s prepared food tax by 1 percentage point in hopes of raising $144 million to pay for stadium renovations.

(7.15.13) Commerce Overhaul Draws Scrutiny of Senate, Transparency Advocates
RALEIGH — While the McCrory administration is hailing an overhaul of the way North Carolina recruits business, open government advocates worry that the new North Carolina Economic Development Partnership may perpetuate the state’s system of closed-door dealings and secret incentives. The General Assembly has put the brakes on the changes as well.

(5.16.13) House Passes Campaign Spending Measure Expanding Disclosure
RALEIGH — A bill that supporters say would require more timely reporting by independent groups engaging in political campaigns in North Carolina passed the House by an overwhelming margin. The bill would require many electioneering expenditures by groups not affiliated with a candidate to report the spending, often within 48 hours.

(3.13.13) Bill Criminalizing Violations of Open Government Laws Faces Pushback
RALEIGH — A Sunshine Week meeting to discuss a proposed new law making a violation of the state’s open government laws found some senators not too keen on the idea. Several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed reservations with the bill’s provision that would make violating the law a misdemeanor.

(8.02.12) Legislative ‘Dashboard’ Lets Lawmakers Track Bills Electronically
RALEIGH — The more technologically savvy method of navigating legislation was introduced as a pilot program during this summer’s short session. It is aimed at saving paper, paying for paper and supplies, and making the General Assembly operate more efficiently.

(2.24.12) Gov’t Reformers Urge Greater Transparency From Republican Leaders
RALEIGH — The letter asks legislative leaders to support full sunshine principles by providing clear and precise calendars for House and Senate legislative sessions and committee meetings at least five business days in advance, along with a list of the issues that will be addressed.

(1.26.12) Judge Says Bertie County Tape Is A Public Record, But Then Seals It
RALEIGH — The commissioners did not include the pay raise of then-county manager Zee Lamb from $101,725 to $144,000 and travel allotment increase from $6,000 to $9,000 annually in minutes of the Aug. 17, 2009, public meeting at which they were approved.

(1.18.12) Lawsuit Against Bertie County Commission Could Clarify Open Records Law
RALEIGH — The case could train a public spotlight on the conflict between the constitutional principle of open government and state laws affording generous protection to personnel records of public employees.

(11.29.11) State Lawmakers Might Get iPads
RALEIGH — The lawmakers who will select the tablets haven’t decided yet whether to pick iPads, Galaxy Tabs, or Xooms, but whichever brand they settle on, tablet computers are supposed to save the state money and give the public better access to legislative documents and other materials.

(10.19.11) Yadkin County Earns an ‘A’ in Government Transparency
RALEIGH — Mecklenburg and Wake, the state’s largest and second largest counties respectively, are the other two counties that scored an “A.” Each has more than 900,000 residents, in contrast to Yadkin with just over 38,000.

(10.17.11) Haywood College Solar Project Raises Red Flags
CLYDE — While the college will sell power to Progress Energy throughout the 30-year project, most of the benefits to the college would occur after its 20th year. Unnamed investors would reap returns right away. The proposal barely passed muster with college trustees.

(8.15.11) Request for Local Govt Salaries Draws Lobbying Group’s Interest
RALEIGH — The association receives taxpayer-financed dues from North Carolina’s 100 counties and represents the interests of county commissioners at the General Assembly. Even so, it claims information about its employees are exempt from the state's public records law.

(7.07.11) Open-Government Backers Disheartened by NCGA Session
RALEIGH — Measures enhancing open records protections and boosting access to personnel files fell by the wayside. And open-government forces barely staved off an attempt to weaken access to firing and disciplinary records for state workers.

(5.25.11) Sunshine Amendment Rises Again — Then Sets
RALEIGH — Three Republicans — House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam of Wake County, Rep. Leo Daughtry of Johnston County, and Rep. Johnathan Rhyne of Lincoln County — joined eight Democrats in voting against the legislation.

(4.01.11) Sunshine Amendment Scuttled After GOP Caucus Balks
RALEIGH — House Bill 87’s chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Lenoir County, said the shift to a statute was necessary due to concerns from both parties that amending the constitution was a bridge too far.

(3.24.11) Debate on Sunshine Amendment Punted to Next Week
RALEIGH — The public already has the right to access government documents and meetings under general statutes, but House Bill 87 would make those rights harder for lawmakers or courts to tamper with by putting them in the state’s highest governing document.

(10.01.10) CJ Editorial: Reuben Young Channels Sgt. Schultz
Former Gov. Mike Easley's top lawyer has a faulty memory.

(9.22.10) Easley Attorney Did Not Notice Senders or Recipients of E-mail Records
RALEIGH — By failing to identify the senders or recipients, or choosing not to notice whether the e-mails were sent from government accounts or private e-mail providers, it would have been difficult for Reuben Young to determine whether the documents he was reviewing were public records dealing with state business or personal correspondence.

(7.13.10) Ethics Reform Package Falls Short of Perdue’s Request
RALEIGH — Open-government advocates got a boost in the waning hours of the General Assembly’s short session when lawmakers agreed on an ethics reform package that toughens enforcement and penalties. But the compromise falls short on several reforms pushed by Gov. Bev Perdue, and government watchdogs say it doesn’t go far enough in combating corruption in Raleigh.

(7.01.10) VIDEO: State Budget Leaves $28 Billion Hole
RALEIGH — It’s possible the state is violating North Carolina’s constitutional mandate for a balanced budget. Budget writers are not making the annual required contributions necesary to pay for retiree health benefits promised to state workers. Instead, they’re paying enough to cover only the current year’s benefits.

(6.29.10) At Raleigh Event, Brockovich Vague On Alcoa Dam Controversy
RALEIGH — The event was hosted by Mayor Charles Meeker, whose law firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP represents Stanly County; and City Councillor Nancy McFarlane, who formerly headed the North Carolina Water Rights Committee, a nonprofit group that has been lobbying the General Assembly to pass legislation allowing the state to seize Alcoa’s dams and set up an independent Yadkin River Trust to operate them.

(6.24.10) N.C. Supreme Court Broadens Protections of Public Records Law
RALEIGH — A unanimous court reaffirmed that government records are owned by the people and that the mechanism for enforcing the public’s right to know shouldn’t be left in the hands of the state agency that has the records. The case will return to a Wake County court for trial.

(6.09.10) Iffy Investments, Excessive Spending Drain Escheat Fund
RALEIGH — Investments by the Escheat Fund initiated by former state Treasurer Richard Moore have gone sour, and as legislators continue to raid the principal of the fund for scholarships, current Treasurer Janet Cowell has warned that the fund could go broke by 2012 unless the General Assembly turns down the spigot.

(5.11.10) State Pension Fund Takes a Hit From Collapsing Real Estate Investments
RALEIGH — The real estate investments in North Carolina’s pension fund, the worst performing category of investments in the pension’s portfolio, are taking a hit as a Morgan Stanley fund with $440 million in pension investments tanks.

(4.07.10) VIDEO: N.C. Seeking Better Ways to Keep Tabs on Incentives
RALEIGH — Members of the General Assembly’s Revenue Laws Study Committee got into a heated discussion about one of the largest incentive deals in North Carolina — the nearly $300 million enticement to Dell. The computer manufacturer claimed a small fraction of the tax credits offered to it, and it has since announced plans to close its plant. It was open for less than 5 years.

(4.06.10) N.C. Transportation System Needs Better Project Selection Process
RALEIGH — A better project selection process is more important than new funding sources in addressing North Carolina's transportation needs. The John Locke Foundation's top budget expert will deliver that message at 1 p.m. today in testimony to state legislators.

(3.24.10) How Much Information Do You Have to Give the Census?
RALEIGH — When Rockingham County resident Eric Smith found the 2010 U.S. Census waiting for him in the mailbox, he immediately went in the house and filled it out. However, this North Carolinian — one of more than 4 million in the state to receive the government form — answered only one of the 10 questions on the form before returning it.

(3.19.10) Sunshine Week A Good Time to Get Famililar With JLF Transparency Site
RALEIGH — As media reports on Sunshine Week highlight lapses in government openness, the John Locke Foundation's Web site remains an essential resource for North Carolinians wanting to keep tabs on state and local agencies.

(2.12.10) Loophole in Governor’s E-mail Retention System
RALEIGH — After a series of fiascos involving deleted e-mails by state officials, a new archiving system for employee e-mails will capture messages en route to workers’ inboxes, retaining them for 10 years as public records.

(2.04.10) Depositions Could Pose Legal Peril for Easley Aides
RALEIGH — Several aides to former Gov. Mike Easley could be in legal jeopardy based on conflicting statements they gave in sworn depositions.

(1.29.10) State Health Department: Obamacare Will Boost Medicaid Costs
RALEIGH — North Carolinians can expect to spend between 3 percent and 8 percent more on Medicaid if either of the health care bills before Congress becomes law, according to a report released by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

(1.27.10) Butterfield Dined, Lodged in Copenhagen on Taxpayers’ Dime
RALEIGH — Taxpayers paid a heavy price for the failed climate-change talks in Denmark last month, according to newly released reports detailing a half-million dollars in travel expenses for lawmakers and experts to attend.

(1.26.10) E-mails Outline Role of Officials and Judge in Controversial Yadkin Jail Siting
YADKINVILLE — E-mails between Yadkin County officials and a judge who was prodding them to build a new jail show that county officials had repeatedly asked the judge to intervene and help quell opposition to the jail’s location.

(1.15.10) Bogus ZIP code update: Real recipients found
RALEIGH — After Carolina Journal reported Jan. 11 that the federal government sent 2.5 million stimulus dollars to North Carolina ZIP codes that don’t exist, a spokesman for the government’s own Web site — — had difficulty showing a reporter how that funding could in fact be identified.

(1.15.10) Wake School System Released Private Checking, Routing Number
RALEIGH — Leaders of a conservative parent group in Wake County are upset that the school system’s public information office released a copy of a personal check from one of its founding members that included her account number.

(1.11.10) Stimulus money sent to phantom ZIP codes in North Carolina
RALEIGH — The federal government sent 2.5 million stimulus dollars to North Carolina ZIP codes that don’t exist.

(1.06.10) Transparency Top Priority at Union County School Board
RALEIGH — The Union County Board of Education has been the only school board in the state to show any interest in improving its grade on the John Locke Foundation’s Web site

(1.04.10) Easley Ethics Forms Omitted Rental Income
RALEIGH — Former Gov. Mike Easley failed to list income from the rental of his Raleigh home on at least three consecutive annual economic interest statements — a violation of state ethics laws.

(12.22.09) JLF Report Says Open, Accountable Government Builds Voter Trust
RALEIGH — Government agencies that shine light on their work use resources more wisely, find potential budget savings more easily, and give taxpayers more reasons to trust them. The John Locke Foundation’s top budget analyst reaches that conclusion in a new Policy Report.

(12.15.09) Cowell Implements Ethics Rules to Prevent Repeat of Moore-Era Activities
RALEIGH — State Treasurer Janet Cowell told her employees in March, about two months after she’d been sworn in, that they and future employees couldn’t do business with or lobby the treasurer’s office for a year after they’d left their jobs.

(12.10.09) Judge Orders Former Easley Staffers Deposed
RALEIGH — Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning declined to dismiss a public-records lawsuit brought by several media outlets, including Carolina Journal, until four former staffers of Gov. Mike Easley have been deposed in the matter.

(12.09.09) Cooper: Easley’s lawbreaking doesn’t matter
RALEIGH — Attorney General Roy Cooper has asked a state judge to dismiss a lawsuit against embattled former Gov. Mike Easley and several top officials from his administration, arguing that because Easley is no longer in office, and others named in the suit no longer hold the jobs they did with Easley, they cannot be held liable for alleged violations of the state’s open records law.

(12.07.09) UNC-Chapel Hill Reimbursed State Employee $27K for Commute
RALEIGH — A military-aid initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reimbursed one of its employees at least $27,000 to commute between North Carolina and her home in Virginia, even as questions about the program’s effectiveness and use of resources lingered.

(11.13.09) UNC-Chapel Hill Gives Citizen-Soldier Program a Face-Lift
RALEIGH – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is trimming back a controversial initiative meant to assist veterans and their families after an internal review found evidence of waste and abuse in the program.

(10.19.09) N.C. Governments Respond to Calls for Transparency from Web Site
RALEIGH — The idea for grew from the need for North Carolinians to have a single point of access to information on governmental entities.

(10.09.09) Delegation Denounces Excesses in Citizen-Soldier Program
RALEIGH – An embattled university program meant to assist soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan must shape up or lose its taxpayer funding, say many of the same North Carolina congressional lawmakers who supported the program’s initial federal commitment five years ago.

(9.29.09) General Assembly Considers Cleaning Up State Contracts
RALEIGH — Recent high-profile controversies involving the State Health Plan, mental health services, and office supply overcharges have raised red flags for some North Carolina lawmakers. They’re considering rewriting the rules governing state contracts.

(9.10.09) Checklist Will Help Voters Assess School Board Candidates
RALEIGH — School board candidates across North Carolina will need more than just a standard "for the children" campaign speech this year, thanks to a new, easy-to-use checklist from the John Locke Foundation.

(9.08.09) State Continues Effort to Take Dams from Alcoa
RALEIGH — Gov. Beverly Perdue supports the creation of a new state agency to manage Alcoa’s hydroelectric facilities.

(8.31.09) Review Blasts Price Earmark Waste
CARRBORO — UNC review of a program funded with an earmark obtained by Rep. David Price finds haphazard management and wasteful spending.

(8.20.09) State Supreme Court Ruling Protects Whistleblowers in Government Agencies
RALEIGH — State employees could have lost protections provided by the Whistleblower Act, which protects state workers from retaliation by their employers when reporting misuse of public funds or other misconduct.

(8.06.09) N.C. Members of Congress Shy Away from Town Halls
RALEIGH — A CNN poll released Wednesday found that 71 percent of adult Americans were very likely (41 percent) or somewhat likely (30 percent) to attend a “town hall meeting or some other public forum where voters got a chance to speak” on health-care reform hosted by a member of Congress in their communities.

(8.03.09) Teacher Paradise in Jackson County Attracts Scrutiny
CULLOWHEE — Most people visit Jackson County for the mountain vistas, camping, and trout fishing. Public school teachers come here for the training. The remote county might seem an unlikely site for North Carolina’s only professional development center devoted exclusively to reviving a love of learning in state educators.

(6.01.09) Mystery Group Behind Dam Takeover Bid
RALEIGH — A driving force behind the state’s effort to take over a central North Carolina hydroelectric project owned by Alcoa Power Generating Inc. is a mysterious group called the North Carolina Water Rights Committee. The panel is headed by Raleigh City Council member Nancy McFarlane. She has refused several Carolina Journal requests to be interviewed about her organization.