When describing access to public records, “slow” is the first word that comes to mind, Ken Eudy, a senior adviser to Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday, March 11, during a talk on government transparency at Elon University.
Eudy’s 30-minute speech came before a group of reporters and local government staffers at an event hosted by the N.C. Open Government Coalition kicking off National Sunshine Week, an annual nationwide celebration of access to public records.
In a talk that started with a joke about being “off-the-record,” Eudy covered several topics, including his concerns over election ethics violations, his views on “gotcha journalism,” and his defense of how Cooper’s administration handled records requests about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
A journalist-turned-lobbyist-turned-bureaucrat, Eudy said he has seen all sides of transparency issues.
“I know that many of you ask the same question many times … ‘Why does it take so damn long, and why does it cost so damn much?’”
“It’s more complicated than it looks,” he answered.
Eudy pointed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The ACP is an LLC formed in 2014 to build a 600-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina. In 2018, the ACP provided Cooper a $57.8 million discretionary fund to spend at will for damage mitigation, economic development, and renewable energy projects. The move triggered controversy and an onslaught of public records requests.
Carolina Journal’s reporting raised concerns about the legality of the fund, which would have bypassed the General Assembly entirely. Legislators said the arrangement was unconstitutional and looked like a “pay-to-play” scheme, CJ has reported. In February, the General Assembly voted to redirect Cooper’s discretionary fund to the school systems in eight counties in the path of the pipeline.
In December, Cooper’s administration released thousands of documents in response to numerous public records requests from the media and members of the N.C. General Assembly. WRAL uploaded the files into a searchable database with more than 19,000 pages.
Two of the governor’s 54 full-time staff members were tasked with collecting email, text, and phone records from roughly 30 people. That made it slow going, Eudy said.
CJ made its first requests for documents Feb. 9, 2018.
For those with complaints about Cooper’s transparency efforts, “I can only say, it was the best we could do, and we’ll try harder,” Eudy said.
The press has fallen into “gotcha” journalism with a “fad” trend of fact-check stories, he said at the end of his speech.
“Fact-checking is substituted oftentimes for efforts to connect the dots and provide context about the larger truth,” he said.
Eudy began his career as a journalist, first on television and then at The Charlotte Observer. In the late 1980s, he served two years as executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party. In 1994 he founded the consulting and lobbying firm Capstrat. He joined the Cooper administration in January 2017 when the governor was inaugurated.
CJ Executive Editor Don Carrington provided additional reporting for this story.