The state Department of Transportation backed away Tuesday from its policy directing the public to submit all requests for public documents to a department spokesperson – bypassing department officials who are identified in state law as individual custodians of public records.
The change came in response to a Road Worrier column criticizing DOT’s implementation of a McCrory administration policy that says: “Public records requests shall be directed to a department public information officer (PIO).”
General Statutes 132-6(a), part of North Carolina’s public records law, says that every public official who is a custodian of public records must allow the public to examine the documents. A Buncombe County Superior Court judge ruled in 1999 that government agencies cannot funnel such requests through agency gatekeepers.
“The law by its own express terms does not permit for the interposition of a ‘gatehouse’ or ‘overseer’ between members of the public who desire access to public records and custodians of public records,” Superior Court Judge Loto Caviness ruled in the Dawes v. Buncombe case.
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The announcement of DOT’s policy shift came by email to the Road Worrier from Mike Charbonneau, a DOT deputy secretary:
To clarify, you are welcome to submit records (requests) to whoever you like. This policy simply addresses how the request is processed after it is received.