THE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY ACT OF 2021/A BILL TO OPEN STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL RECORDS
In North Carolina, the idea of government accountability through public records and public meetings has been more aspirational than reality-based. Now though, there is greater cause for celebration than we have seen in a long time, thanks to the introduction of The Government Transparency Act of 2021.
Primary sponsors of this monumental bill, Sens. Norman Sanderson (R - Carteret, Craven, Pamlico); Bill Rabon (R - Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender); and Joyce Krawiec (R - Davie, Forsyth), have filed one of the most important transparency bills in recent history. By providing meaningful public access to personnel records of state and local government employees, the bill would allow North Carolinians to hold elected leaders accountable for the first time when it comes to hiring, firing and other personnel action.
Unfortunately, for as long as anyone can remember, North Carolinians have been forced to suffer under the weight of one of the worst public records laws in the country. For more than 50 years, transparency of North Carolina government has been badly hindered by the lack of public access to arguably the most important government records, those surrounding the hiring, promotion, suspension, demotion, termination or discipline of state and local government employees. And yet public access to these records — vital to holding public officials from teachers to law enforcement officers accountable— is guaranteed by the law in the states surrounding North Carolina and some 35 others.
Thanks to The Government Transparency Act of 2021 we now have the chance to crack the door open to allow the public to learn the reasons for terminating, promoting, suspending, demoting or disciplining a government employee. From our perspective, it is a sea change long overdue, and the North Carolina Press Association strongly supports the bill.
The NCPA rebuttal to NCAE's campaign of misinformation
The NC Press Association 1) corrects the misinformation in NCAE's letter to NC state senators about the public records laws in other states (where virtually complete public access to the entire government personnel file is guaranteed) when compared to NC’s 50 year old, total ban on public access to reasons for disciplinary actions taken against those employed by the public; and 2) dispels the false NCAE-SEANC-Teamsters’ notion and narrative that the bill is legally defective.
It is worth remembering that the bill’s core language dramatically improving NC Public Records Law was crafted in 2010 through the work of then-state Democrat Senator Dan Clodfelter and then-state senate Minority Leader Phil Berger. That language would require — for the first time in NC history — disclosure of a “general description of the reasons” for a demotion, suspension, separation, or termination of a government employee to the taxpaying public who employ them in state and local government.):
RE: NCAE misinformation campaign
On behalf of the North Carolina Press Association and the other statewide organizations supporting The Government Transparency Act of 2021, we'd like to dispel the misinformation crafted by the NCAE:
- First and foremost, The Government Transparency Act of 2021 is nothing close to a radical, new approach extending beyond the public’s right to know in most other states. In fact, the vast majority of open government states, including the top tier public records laws in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Ohio, and Texas allow access to virtually the entire public employee personnel file (minus social security and bank account numbers and the like). Thirty more states, Iowa notably among them, offer access to reasons for disciplinary actions like those contained in The Government Transparency Act of 2021.
- Contrary to the NCAE’s arguments, due process safeguards exist — by statute or by agency procedural rules — at every level of city, county, and state government for employees who believe they have been wrongfully accused and discharged. Language has been added to the bill to prohibit disclosure of personal medical information; and additional safeguards are built into judicial decisions that are well-known to public sector lawyers, who train their state and local government managers to use them when appropriate. There is nothing legally defective — much less constitutionally defective — about this bill.
- A general description of the reasons for demotions, suspensions, and terminations have been kept secret from the public for far too long in North Carolina. It’s high time North Carolina joined the ranks of the most transparent states by passing The Government Transparency Act of 2021.
If you believe in more transparency and your Right to Know
, contact your senator today
and ask them to support the Government Transparency Act of 2021