It’s no secret that disciplinary records of taxpayer-funded employees are kept behind lock and key. That shroud of secrecy prevents the public from finding out why a teacher moves from school to school every year. The shroud of secrecy prevents any information about why a law enforcement officer jumps from agency to agency from being released.
So shrouded in secrecy are public personnel records that when a superintendent in the Alamance-Burlington School System abruptly resigned, the school board argued the meeting where her resignation was accepted was part of her personnel file, and thus not open to public inspection. We still don’t know why that superintendent resigned, or why she received a $200,000 severance package just seven months after having her contract renewed.
If the Government Transparency Act of 2021 were in place at that time, there would be little room to deny access to the reasoning behind her resignation.
It’s time that shroud of secrecy be removed from personnel records in North Carolina. After all, isn’t sunshine the best disinfectant?
In this case, allowing an explanation of certain disciplinary records like firings and suspensions to be public record can only build trust in the government. Parents would be able to see if a teacher’s propensity for switching schools every year is to get ahead in their career, or because they have a history of misconduct. Local leaders will have easier access to law enforcement personnel records, so they can see why a newly hired officer was let go from his previous agency.
As elected officials, it’s our duty to put forward bills we believe will better our state. That’s why we introduced the Government Transparency Act of 2021. Allowing someone to have access to a description of disciplinary actions might seem like a small change, but it’ll boost confidence in our institutions.
No longer would North Carolina lag behind other open government states. More than 30 other states already allow the public to see hiring, firing, demotion, and promotion information. Our proposal would not give anyone unfettered access to a public employee’s personnel record. It’s written to balance the employee’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know.
For more than a decade legislators – both Republican and Democrat – have attempted to bring these records out into the open. They’ve been blocked time and time again.
This time around misinformation campaigns have lodged accusations that the bill is unconstitutional and doesn’t protect an employee’s due process rights.
What they’re conveniently leaving out is that we amended the bill to protect the due process rights of employees. The bill mirrors those laws in more than 30 other states which are constitutional. The arguments that the organizations continue to peddle ring hollow when you read the bill and look at the facts.
The fact of the matter is this bill is good public policy.
When our colleagues and members of the public brought up concerns about due process and the possibility of private medical information being released, we amended the bill to address those concerns. The bill is stronger than ever before, and we remain committed to passing it.
North Carolina has consistently ranked near the bottom when it comes to citizen access to job performance records. The Government Transparency Act of 2021 will bring North Carolina in line with other states to allow public access to certain job performance records.
We’ve waited decades to bring these records into the sunshine. Luckily, supporting a transparent government never goes out of style.