Senate Bill 355 — the Government Transparency Act of 2021 — would at last allow the public to see the disciplinary files of public employees, files that have long been held in secret in this state.
North Carolina is one of only 10 states that don’t allow access to disciplinary files. Even if a public employee commits a crime and is convicted, his or her personnel file must remain cloaked in darkness.
Such was the case of a Henderson County teacher who was convicted of sexually abusing 17 students. Because North Carolina law prevents the release of personnel files, the teacher was able to jump from job to job because no one — not even school officials who were conducting job interviews of him — could see his personnel files. He taught at six different schools before he was caught.
Minnesota is another state that doesn’t allow citizens or the press to see public employee personnel files. What if the public had been able to routinely review the files of the four officers charged in the death of George Floyd? The scrutiny would have raised questions about the officers’ conduct; plus, their supervisors would have been much more likely to take action before Floyd’s death had they known the public would hold them, too, accountable.