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  • Law Enforcement Video Camera Records: An Ongoing National Debate About Transparency

    Authored by: on Thursday, February 26th, 2015

    In a previous post, I described how North Carolina’s public records laws may apply to law enforcement body and vehicle video camera records. [I’ve recently updated that post to note a newly promulgated records retention standard for these records.] The push for transparency and for more documentation of law enforcement-citizen interactions through the use of video cameras continues. And though there may be some consensus about the benefit of using vehicle and body cameras, there remains significant disagreement about policies for their retention and use, and especially regarding their release to the public. The technology is available and simple to use, but its use raises complicated operational and policy issues. Read more »

  • County Tax Websites and Public Records Law

    Authored by: on Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

    Most of North Carolina’s 100 counties maintain tax websites that allow users to search for property information by name and address.  Even tiny Graham County (population 8,800) offers on-line access to its tax records.  Larger counties have more elaborate websites with more information available.  Durham County, for example, offers on-line access not only to photos of properties but also maps, past sale prices, and building permits.

    I get lots of questions about what may, must, and cannot be made available via local government tax websites.  Some of them were spurred by legislation proposed last summer that would have required counties to remove from their websites information pertaining to law enforcement officials.

    Here are my thoughts on county tax websites. Read more »

  • Employers: Warning! Your Overtime Costs Are About to Go Up

    Authored by: on Friday, February 20th, 2015

    Whether they know it or not, virtually all employers in America are about to face a significant increase in their overtime pay obligations. The time to start thinking about the budget implications of that fact is now. For North Carolina governmental employers, the impact is likely to hit in the middle of fiscal year 2016. Read more »

  • Access to Records in Financial Exploitation Investigations

    Authored by: on Monday, February 16th, 2015

    It will now be much easier for county social services agencies and law enforcement officials to investigate reports of suspected financial exploitation of disabled adults and older adults. The Administrative Office of the Courts just approved a new form (AOC-SP-630) that officials can use to ask a district court judge to issue a subpoena directing a financial institution to provide copies of the adult’s financial records. This new subpoena authority was authorized in legislation (S.L. 2014-115, s. 44) that went into effect October 1, 2014.

    Government officials have several tools available to help them obtain access to financial records for exploitation investigations, but each tool is different, and one may be more appropriate than another depending on the circumstances. This post will review the options and highlight some of the key differences among them. Read more »

  • County and Municipal Government in North Carolina: New Edition is Now Available

    Authored by: on Friday, February 13th, 2015

    Do you have questions about North Carolina local government? Want to know what “spot zoning” really means? Confused about what kinds of annexation cities can still do? Looking for a summary of changes in the structure of mental health and other human services? Want to know more about benchmarking, IT and social media trends, the respective roles of the manager and the governing board, or the governance and funding structure of public schools in North Carolina? Searching for a general overview of the public records and open meetings laws?

    You can find all this and much more in the new edition of County and Municipal Government in North Carolina, now available for purchase.  Read more »

  • (Yet Another) Internet Sweepstakes Update

    Authored by: on Thursday, February 12th, 2015

     

    The North Carolina General Assembly banned internet sweepstakes more than four years ago.  The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld that ban more than two years ago.  A few months later that court struck down excessive municipal privilege license taxes on these businesses.  Last year the General Assembly eliminated nearly all municipal privilege licenses, including those on sweepstakes operators, as of this July.

    And yet the headlines are still filled with sweepstakes news.  “Greensboro Police Department to begin ‘full enforcement’ of sweepstakes law in March.”  “Sweepstakes, internet cafés put on notice” after Rockingham County sets March 31 as the deadline for sweepstakes operators to cease operations or face criminal prosecution.  What’s going on here? Read more »

  • Special Purpose Local Governments and Public Authorities

    Authored by: on Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

    North Carolina is a non-home rule state, which means that its local government entities are created by, and derive all their authority from, the General Assembly. The General Assembly has created a relatively flat local government structure. Almost all governmental responsibilities have been vested in two general-purpose governments—counties and municipalities (cities, towns, villages). This makes North Carolina relatively unique; many other states have a tiered local government structure with various boards, districts, commissions, townships, hamlets, and other local entities layered on top of one another.

    The legislature has authorized some special-purpose local governments, though. A special-purpose local government typically serves only limited functions—such as providing water or sewer services, tourism development, public education, public transportation, or even mosquito control. The territorial boundaries of a special-purpose local government often cut across more than one general-purpose local government. This allows for certain services to be provided within a portion of a governmental unit or across multiple governmental units. 

    A special-purpose local government is commonly referred to as a public authority. I am frequently asked about the general powers and authorities of a public authority. There are actually none. A public authority is not a legal entity. And the term “public authority” is not synonymous with “special-purpose government.” Instead, “public authority” derives from the Local Government Budget and Fiscal Control Act (LGBFCA), specifically G.S. 159-7. That provision makes certain types of special-purpose local governments—labeled either “units of local government” or “public authorities”—subject to the fiscal control act based on their particular structures. Being classified a public authority only means that a particular entity is subject to the LGBFCA’s provisions. It says nothing about the powers or authorities of the particular special-purpose local government.

    This post reviews the various ways that special-purpose local governments are established. It then details how to determine whether or not a special-purpose government is a unit of local government or public authority, and thus subject to the LGBFCA.  Read more »