John Skvarla continues to put together his team at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
He has named Joe Harwood, who ran his own Mecklenburg County-based consulting firm, to lead the departments customer service branch as the agencys ombudsman. Like Gov. Pat McCrory, Harwood had previously worked for Duke Energy in the environmental, regulatory, legislative and customer affairs area.
During the campaign, McCrory singled out DENR as a state agency that he thought was not business-friendly. Skvarla created the post of ombudsman.
Skvarla also went to another power company veteran when he named Drew Elliot as his communications director. Elliott worked as spokesman for Progress Energy and before that was a legislative assistant for Republican Sen. Richard Burr. Most recently he worked at South University in Georgia as assistant to the chancellor for communications.
Also named was Carr McLamb, a Raleigh attorney, as DENRs deputy director of legislative affairs. He previously worked for the firm of Jordan Price Wall Gray Jones & Carlton.
Bill targets police drones
Theres bipartisan concern over the prospect that North Carolinas skies might fill up with snooping drones. A bill filed last week would place firm restrictions on how law enforcement can use the flying robots.
The bills sponsors are Republican Reps. Mitchell Setzer of Catawba County and Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County and Democratic Reps. Duane Hall of Wake County and Pricey Harrison of Guilford County. The North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union immediately praised the legislation as providing needed safeguards.
Earlier this month, the Monroe City Council approved its police department buying a mini drone at a cost of up to $44,000 in money obtained through drug investigation asset forfeiture cases. Gaston police bought a drone in 2006 with drug forfeiture money, but say it has been too costly to fly.
House Bill 312 would prohibit city police, county sheriffs or state law enforcement agencies from using drones in investigations unless they have a search warrant or reasonable suspicion that immediate action is needed to prevent imminent harm, property damage, escape of a suspect or destruction of evidence.
They would be allowed to use drones for other purposes, but any information gathered could not be used in legal proceedings. Facial recognition or other biometric matching technology would be prohibited.
Earlier this month, ACLU affiliates in North Carolina and 22 other states filed public records requests to determine the extent of drone use in the U.S. In North Carolina, the ACLU asked for records from 64 of the states largest local law enforcement agencies.
Boost for digital learning
Gov. Pat McCrory signed two bills Friday dealing with digital learning and technology.
One signals the states intention to transition from funding textbooks to digital materials by 2017, the other directs the State Board of Education to develop and implement digital learning standards for teachers and administrators.
This legislation will help fundamentally transform the way our children learn in our schools through technology, McCrory said in a statement.
Personnel bill opposed
Capping off Sunshine Week last week, state Sen. Thom Goolsby filed SB332, which would make public the reason that any state employee is fired, suspended, demoted or transferred, as well as promoted. Currently, only the reason for a promotion is public.
The Wilmington Republicans bill would require a general description for the reason for the change in job status. It would also make employees job performance a public record.
The State Employees Association of North Carolina was quick to condemn the proposal, calling it one big bad idea. SEANC, in an emailed newsletter sent out Friday, said, The bill would serve no legitimate purpose; it simply would create a forum for gossip and potential lawsuits.
Goolsbys bill, filed Thursday, would also award attorneys fees to anyone who successfully sues a state agency for failing to turn over the records. And it would allow a judge to order that the fees be paid personally by the people who refuse to provide the records.
A companion bill, SB331 by Goolsby, would add a sunshine amendment to the state constitution firming up public access to records and meetings.
Staff writers Rob Christensen, Craig Jarvis and Lynn Bonner
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