Under the Dome

Dome: Bills to change personnel records policy fail

STAFF WRITERSJune 21, 2011 

Efforts to reduce or expand the amount of public information from state and local personnel records did not succeed this legislative session.

Two bills - one in the House; the other in the Senate - would have expanded the public personnel information to include explanations of disciplinary actions and employee performance. They also included penalties for government officials who denied records that were clearly public. The bills were supported by the N.C. Press Association, of which The News & Observer is a member.

A third bill would have prevented the release of salary histories before Oct. 1, 2007, as well as any dismissal letters or the reporting of dismissals, suspensions or demotions for disciplinary reasons before Oct. 1, 2010. It also would have allowed governments to not have to write dismissal letters for employees such as sheriff's deputies who can be fired at will without explanation.

That bill, filed by state Sen. Pete Brunstetter, a Winston-Salem Republican, came at the behest of representatives for county commissioners, sheriffs and school boards.

None of the bills made it out of committee.

While the two bills expanding personnel information appeared dead earlier this month after Crossover Week - the legislature's self-imposed deadline for passing legislation out of either chamber - Brunstetter's bill appeared on the Senate Finance Committee's agenda at least twice last week, only to be removed before being heard.

Last year, state lawmakers expanded the amount of personnel information that should be public, including full salary histories and each suspension, demotion and promotion. Suspensions, demotions and dismissals for disciplinary reasons have to be identified.

Governments also have to release dismissal letters created before the law's start date, and must now produce dismissal letters that explain why an employee was fired. Those letters are also public.

The changes followed a three-part series in The News & Observer, "Keeping Secrets," that showed North Carolina had one of the most secretive personnel laws in the nation.

Edwards deemed 'worst'

Although former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York has been in the headlines recently, voters think that North Carolina's former U.S. Sen. John Edwards is the worst politician involved in a sex scandal.

When asked who is the "worst person" involved in a political sex scandal, a national poll found that 38 percent named Edwards, followed by 21 percent who named former President Bill Clinton, according to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based firm with Democratic leanings.

Edwards was recently indicted in federal court in Winston-Salem on charges that he illegally used campaign funds to cover up his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a child.

Others receiving votes were Larry Craig (8 percent) followed by Mark Foley (5 percent). Weiner, John Ensign, Mark Sanford and Eliot Spitzer were all at 3 percent.

The national survey of 520 voters was conducted June 9-12, just after Weiner admitted he had sent a photo of himself in tight-fitting underpants to a college student in Washington state and had had inappropriate online exchanges with at least six other women, but before his resignation Thursday.

Parking will cost more

The cost of visitor parking around the state government complex is about to go up.

The price will double from $1 to $2 per hour starting July 1, as a result of the budget that passed last week.

The cost of a lost ticket will also double from $8 to $16.

The money will be used to help pay the debt for the $17 million Green Square parking deck, which opened in January.

dan.kane@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4861

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