John Drescher

Gov. McCrory’s dismal record on public records

The N.C Republican Party is seeking 14 years of public records from state Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat expected to run next year against Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

The GOP noted Tuesday that it had been 36 days since it made its request for all email and correspondence Cooper and his senior staff sent or received in the past 14 years. It also asked for every Twitter and Facebook message, official appointment, expense report, official opinion and internal memo from the Attorney General’s office since 2001.

N.C. GOP Executive Director Todd Poole sent a letter to Cooper saying, “It is our belief that 36 days constitutes a reasonable amount of time to receive additional response and demand that you comply with the law.”

I agree. If 14 years of records should be supplied in 36 days, Gov. Pat McCrory ought to be able to meet our much smaller requests in a few days. The executive branch spends millions of dollars a year on public information officers. Their jobs are to provide information owned by the people of North Carolina. The law requires the agency to furnish copies “as promptly as possible.”

Yet the McCrory administration’s record in meeting requests has been dismal:

▪ In July 2014, we requested email correspondence to and from the Department of Administration regarding the potential sale of the Dorothea Dix property to the city of Raleigh. That request included correspondence starting March 1, 2014. The public information officer at the Department of Administration passed responsibility for the request to the governor’s office. McCrory’s spokesman Josh Ellis told us a month ago that the request was nearly ready. We’ve heard nothing since. We sent a second request on March 30 covering Jan. 12, 2015 until the present. We’ve heard nothing on that request, either.

▪ We asked the Office of State Human Resources in September 2014 for information on state jobs eliminated by the McCrory administration for 2012, 2013 and 2014. We have received no data.

▪ We asked the governor’s office on March 11 for all emails sent to or from the governor’s email accounts between Jan. 1 and March 10, 2015. Nothing has been provided.

▪ We asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in August 2014 for drafts, memos or other correspondence related to the McCrory coal ash plan and the governor’s proposed bill, which was filed on the opening day of the legislative session last May. On Oct. 16, after several inquiries about when the records would be ready, Ellis, the McCrory spokesman, responded: “I’ll get it to you tomorrow.” The documents did not arrive. On Dec. 3, he wrote: “It’s done. I’ll send tomorrow.”

When the information still had not been provided by Dec. 18, The N&O sought further clarification. Ellis then provided information that day detailing the phone contacts between McCrory and Duke’s CEO. But nothing about the development of the coal ash plan was provided. The N&O renewed its request for all of the information.

On Jan. 20 of this year, Ellis sought clarification about what The N&O was seeking. The newspaper provided a copy of the original written request submitted in August. On March 18, some records were provided, including versions 12 and 13 of the coal ash legislation, but not versions 1 through 11. The governor’s office said those documents were not in its possession and would have to be sought from DENR under a separate request. The request was made to DENR on March 23. DENR has not provided any information since.

▪ We asked the state Department of Health and Human Services in September 2013 for the emails of Medicaid director Carol Steckel from her hiring in January 2013 to her resignation in September 2013. The following April, seven months later, DHHS lawyer Kevin Howell said no work had started on the request. In May, the agency released the first batch of email, mostly bulk email and newsletters. In March 2015, we got the seventh and presumably final batch, 18 months after the request.

▪ In late May 2014, we requested emails and attachments between DHHS, its contractors and the Office of State Budget and Management from May 19 to May 28, 2014, concerning a specific line item in the governor’s proposed budget. We have received nothing. (Correction published May 4, 2015: The Department of Health and Human Services provided records in September.)

We follow up on unmet requests and, in some cases, we sue the public agency. If the agencies would provide the documents, they wouldn’t have to fight our court challenges.

When McCrory ran for governor in 2008 and 2012, he criticized former Gov. Mike Easley for not being transparent, for good reason. Easley ordered public emails killed and generally resisted disclosing information.

Easley set a new modern standard among N.C. governors for lack of openness – but McCrory is up there with him. Or maybe it’s down there with him. McCrory promised a new era of openness. He hasn’t delivered.

(Editor’s note: This story includes a correction published May 4, 2015.)

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com;

Twitter: @john_drescher

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