A legal opinion issued today by the state Attorney General's office says that the new law on personnel records requires state and local governments to release historical information on public employees' salary, employment and discipline.
The opinion comes after the Office of State Personnel and several local governments asked if the new law should only be applied to records created on or after Oct. 1, the law's start date. They suggested that since the law did not specifically cite retroactive information, it should only be applied to newly created personnel records.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson Kelley disagreed. He said the law clearly intended to solve an open government issue regarding the pay and performance of public employees.
Prior to this year, North Carolina was the only state in the nation that prohibited release of much of a public employee's work history. That meant past salaries, past positions and past disciplinary actions could not be released, even though those employees essentially work for the taxpayers who support their paychecks.
"We believe the General Assembly intended, through the amendments in the Act, to clarify that public employers are required to maintain a public record of each employees entire salary and position classification history with that public body," Kelley wrote.
Kelley also said that the new law requires the release of dismissal letters, but did not require state and local agencies to create them for employees who had been fired prior to the law's passage. The new law does require the letters to be generated for all dismissals on or after Oct. 1; it also requires that agencies maintain salary and employment histories for their employees if they had not been doing so before the law's start date.
State lawmakers this year overwhelmingly voted to open up the state's 35-year-old personnel law after a three-part News & Observer series, Keeping Secrets, showed that the law was among the most secretive in the nation.
Kelley's opinion will make it harder for state and local governments to deny those records' release.