There are a lot of things that government doesn’t want you to know:
• It can be a relatively simple thing, such as the details of a $6.8 million no-bid contract for a D.C. firm to basically run the state Medicaid program after the McCrory administration excused most of the people who knew what floor the break room was on.
We’ve written about this contract several times, in July in our “Critical Condition” series, later when we learned that the contract had been doubled in amount, and again Wednesday, after Department of Health and Human Services chief Aldona Wos appeared at the legislature to defend it.
DHHS held up information about this contract as long as it could. But now that the details are public, Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham was able to point out that Rudy Dimmling of Alvarez & Marsal, a firm with scant Medicaid experience, will bill about $800,000 himself this year. At $473 an hour, the meter spins pretty quickly.
• When word leaked about some UNC football players possibly beating up a walk-on receiver, the only police report available said the incident occurred at, well, the police station. So if you were following a tip about the action at the Aloft Hotel, there was nowhere to go, and two police departments said they had not gotten any report of any such incident.
So it turns out, after some snooping from The N&O’s Dan Kane and Andrew Carter, that there was a call to the university police department and that the original report was botched. The officer misreported the date, time and location of the incident. So there was a report of an incident, but there was no investigation, because there was no complaint from Jackson Boyer.
• After our series “The Ghost Workers” in 2012, we wanted to go deeper on misclassification, the practice of treating workers who should be employees as independent contractors. But when Mandy Locke first figured out that there were payroll reports filed on every federally supported construction project, the federal government tried to keep us away from the reports.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development asked us for high fees for records on a couple of projects we requested and wrote to local and state agencies in possession of the records, directing them not to give us the records. Instead, they were to give the records to HUD so it could handle their release on its own terms and schedule.
We pushed back. We sued 13 local agencies, demanding the records under the state Public Records Law. They had no defense, and in nearly every case handed over the records quickly. We still paid copying fees, but the payoff has been substantial in our new national series, “Contract to Cheat.”
We now know just how pervasive misclassification is on certain types of construction projects, and we have a pretty good idea of what it’s costing in lost tax revenue, not just here but in at least two other states.
In each of these three examples, government tried to put up barriers to our getting information. If we just take a no and go away, we embolden those officials the next time some other reporter or citizen asks. So when we know the law is on our side, we do not go away. We persist.
We do not, in the words of investigative reporter Joseph Neff, “let the dog on the sofa.” Once he’s there, he slobbers and sheds. That can get pretty messy.
Steve Riley is senior editor for investigations and past president of the N.C. Open Government Coalition.