Posts Tagged ‘public records’

LIHWAP Participation and Disclosure of Public Enterprise Billing Information

Friday, November 12th, 2021

*With special thanks to Kara Millonzi and Elsemarie Mullins As local governments wrestle with administering American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)-funded programs, the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) has prompted public records and confidentiality questions. To administer LIHWAP, state and local Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) agencies are requesting that local governments provide […]

Is That All There Is? Strategies for Proving a Negative When a Person Alleges That Their Request for Records Has Not Been Fulfilled

Monday, December 16th, 2019

The breadth of the North Carolina Public Records Law and the explosion of digital public records have resulted in frequent and voluminous requests for public records. Such requests are time-consuming and often include records that exist only on the personal devices of individual employees and officials. In these situations, the agency must rely on those […]

Retention Schedules for Local Governments: Five Things You Should Know

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

North Carolina law says: The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. (GS 132-1(b))This powerful commitment to transparency wouldn’t mean much if the custodians of public records could simply destroy any or all records, at will. Accordingly, the law makes […]

The Latest on North Carolina Body-Worn Camera Legislation

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

The national debate about body-worn cameras continues as more law enforcement agencies adopt this powerful tool. As I’ve noted in a previous blog post here, this issue involves numerous competing issues, including safety, privacy, fairness, and transparency. Public expectations of transparency have often been frustrated by laws and policies that limit access to recordings. A […]

Custodians of Public Records

Friday, December 19th, 2014

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled that a lawsuit seeking access to public records should be dismissed if it fails to name a proper custodian (as defined in state law) as the defendant in the complaint. The case (Cline v. Hoke) involved a request for emails that the plaintiff alleged to be in […]

Who Has Access to Applicant Information?

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Under North Carolina law, records containing information about applicants for local government jobs are confidential. Of course, employees and officials of the local government itself may view applicant information. This blog explores who, within the unit of government, can have access to employee information, and who may participate in closed sessions involving applicant information.

Anonymous Tips: Can They Really Be Anonymous? [Revised]

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Note: This is a revised version of my earlier post on this topic. Thanks to my colleague Jeff Welty for his help in providing a more complete explanation of the criminal investigation exceptions. Local governments want to hear from their citizens. As one city’s website says, it wants citizens to be its “eyes and ears.” […]

Are Mug Shots Public Records?

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

This may seem like a silly question. Mug shots (more formally, “booking photographs”) are everywhere, posted for free, searchable on line, sold in magazines at convenience stores, and regularly provided by law enforcement agencies. I never considered the question of whether North Carolina law enforcement agencies could withhold mug shots until a lawyer at the […]

Who Can Request Public Records?

Friday, May 10th, 2013

The United States Supreme Court recently upheld a provision in the state of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which allows only Virginia citizens to request  public records under the act. The case is McBurney v. Young.  Could a North Carolina local government impose a similar limitation? The answer is “no”. Our statute provides access to “persons” […]

Charging for Copies of Public Records

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

How much can a public agency charge for responding to public records requests?  The statute limits charges to a “minimal amount,” which is defined as the “actual cost of reproducing the public record or public information.” G.S. 132-1(b). A separate statute defines “actual cost” as:  “direct, chargeable costs related to the reproduction of a public […]

Text Messages as Public Records

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

A city manager sends and receives the following text messages from a city resident on the manager’s personal smartphone: Citizen: u and wife want to meet us for dinner at 6 2moro? Manager: same place as last Fri? scallops were delish Citizen: yeah. btw–Y potholes on Jones St. not fixed yet? ruining my car shocks. mayoer […]

Can I See What’s in My Personnel File?

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

North Carolina statutes protect most public employee information from public access. Public employees have the right to inspect almost all of the information in the files their employers maintain about them. The statutes do, however, carve a few types of information that the employer “need not” disclose to the employee or any other person. A […]

Are Security Videos Public Records?

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Local governments, like many other organizations, place cameras in strategic locations to monitor activities that take place on their property or in public places. Security cameras are used for various purposes, including to apprehend and deter criminal behavior by employees or members of the public and to monitor and document employee performance for evaluation, discipline […]

Ethics and Employee Email

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Wally Whiner is in trouble once again.  Wally, an employee in Blue Devil City’s finance department, has been placed on administrative leave after numerous complaints from residents about his inappropriate conduct. This isn’t Wally’s first ride on the disciplinary carousel; two years ago he was reprimanded and put on a performance improvement plan after a […]

Closed Session Minutes and General Accounts Under the Public Records Law

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

North Carolina’s open meetings and public records laws contain the core transparency requirements for local governments. They’re so often considered together that they can be thought of as first cousins, or even siblings. But they’re not twins, and the North Carolina Supreme Court has made clear that their requirements must be considered independently.  (“The Public […]

Outsourcing Local Government Communications: Implications of the Federal Stored Communications Act

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

In August 2011, the City of HighTech contracted with an external SaaS (software as a service) provider to host its e-mail system. The basic parameters of the contract require the SaaS provider to furnish e-mail service to all city employees and officials. City employees and officials access the e-mail system through a web-based portal from […]

Dealing With Massive Public Records Requests

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

It’s happening more and more frequently, in large and small jurisdictions across North Carolina. It may come by email, personal delivery, or even in a good old -fashioned letter, signed, sealed and delivered by snail mail. It’s the massive public records request. You know the ones: “copies of all emails send to or received by […]

Query That! Public Records Requirements Regarding Database Queries

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Looking to drum up new business, Tony Gazzo makes a public records request to the Rockyham County property tax office for a report listing the names, addresses, and amounts owed for all real property owners who are delinquent on their property taxes as of March 15, 2012. The property tax office maintains a database which […]

Form, Format, and Medium: How Must Electronic Records Be Provided?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

The town’s governing board wants to be more transparent. They direct the clerk to post all agendas, attachments, minutes, and budgets on the town’s website.  The IT director, who manages the website, suggests that these documents should be converted to PDF format, and password-protected in order to prevent members of the public from modifying them.  […]

Texting While Meeting: Is it Illegal for Local Government Officials?

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Texting, tweeting, emailing, blogging, posting: members of public boards are doing this during meetings using their private or publicly-issued electronic devices, and communicating with each other, with individuals or groups attending the meeting, and with individuals and groups anywhere in the world. Is this legal? Is it useful? Or is it just rude? Can the […]

Court Does Not Have Authority to Grant Public Access to Personnel Records

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

State law prohibits general public access to most public employee records. The parallel statutes that govern city and county employee records, as well as several of the separate statutes that govern other types of public agencies, contain provisions that allow access to these records by court order. A recent Court of Appeals opinion, In Re […]

Are Cell Phone Bills Public Records?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Cell phones and other mobile devices have become essential tools for public employees and officials. Governmental agencies may purchase mobile devices and issue them to employees and officials, or may reimburse employees and officials who use their privately-owned devices for work-related purposes. When the government owns and pays for the mobile device, it’s clear that […]

911 Calls and Protecting the Natural Voice – Mandatory or Optional?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Under Section G.S. 132-1.4(c) of the North Carolina Public Records law, the contents of 911 calls are public information, except for certain information specified in the statute. This provision was modified in An Act To Provide That a Transcript or Altered Voice Reproduction May Be Made Available for A 911 Call So As Not To […]

Public Records Law and the Tax Office

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

The basic concept behind North Carolina public records law is simple:  all government records are “property of the people.”  As such, they must be made available upon request for free or minimal cost unless a statute specifically exempts a particular type of record from disclosure.  But many local tax offices are learning that putting this […]

Email Subscriber Lists: A New Exception to the Public Records Law

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

In this blog post about citizen information, I noted that some local governments had obtained local legislation to protect email subscriber lists from some kinds of public access. Effective April 21, 2011, that law now applies to all local governments. This post summarizes its provisions.

Ask, Don’t Compel: Local Government Authority to Establish Rules For Public Records Requests

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

An email to the town clerk requests electronic copies of the job descriptions for all town positions that are currently filled, and a list of all current town employee salaries. It asks for a response by return email. The email address is “guess who” and there is no other identifying information in the request. […]

When Do Government Transparency Laws Apply to Private Entities?

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

A city contracts with a private company to collect solid waste within the city. If not for this contract, city employees would carry out this function. The only connection between the city and the company is the contract. It’s a small company and the contract accounts for a significant portion of its revenue. Is the […]

Self-Executing Constitutional Provisions

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

This session, legislators have introduced bills (House Bill 87, Senate Bill 67) proposing to amend the North Carolina Constitution to create a right of access to public records, and to require that all meetings of public bodies be open. The law preserves existing provisions of law dealing with these subjects, and creates additional requirements for future […]

Records About Employment Actions: Clarifying What Is and Isn’t Public

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Imagine that a local newspaper has requested the following information from a public agency: “A list of all disciplinary actions taken by the agency during the calendar year 2010 against any and all persons employed by the agency, including the name of the individual employee who was disciplined and all of the records pertaining to […]

Dismissals for Poor Performance: Legal Implications Under the Personnel Privacy Statutes

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Sometimes an employee simply doesn’t measure up. Poor performance is a common basis for dismissal. Under the personnel privacy laws, when a “disciplinary action” is a dismissal, a copy of the final notice of dismissal “setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal” is a public record.  Does this […]

Is a Survey A Public Record? Another Application of the Framework for Analyzing Public Records Questions

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Surveys are a valuable tool for local governments and other public agencies. They provide important data that can help agencies make decisions and improve services. Surveys might be designed to get feedback from citizens or employees, or may involve research about facts and conditions that will inform pending agency decisions. Consider a few specific examples: […]

Open Meetings and Confidential Taxpayer Information

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

What happens when the open meetings requirement clashes with the obligation to keep taxpayer income information confidential? This conflict most commonly involves county boards of equalization and review, but the issue could easily arise at the city level as well with privilege license taxes or occupancy taxes. 

Attorney General Opinion on 2010 Personnel Privacy Changes

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

As I have described in several posts (links to these are listed at the end of this post), the legislature’s 2010 amendments to the personnel privacy statutes affecting most North Carolina public employers raised many questions. Several state and local agencies, including the Office of State Personnel, asked the State Attorney General for opinions on […]

Waiting for Interpretations of the New Personnel Privacy Provisions: What Options Do Local Governments Have?

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

On October 1, 2010, a North Carolina city receives a request under G.S. 160A-168(b)(11) for a copy of the written notice of the final dismissal of former police chief Chris Jones, setting forth the specific acts or omissions that were the basis of the dismissal.  (This is information that will be “a matter of public […]

Access to Records or Lists of Information: What Does the Public Records Law Require?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

How should a North Carolina local government respond to the following public records requests? First, a request for a list of all building permits issued to governing board members or their relatives. Second, a request (submitted after October 1, 2010 under the revised personnel privacy law)  for a list of the date and type of each […]

Individual Board Member Access to Email

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Imagine that you’re a local government IT administrator, clerk, manager, or other employee, and your job requires you to have access to employee and board members emails for your unit of local government. A member of your governing board contacts you and says, “I need to review all the emails sent to or received by […]

Personnel Privacy Law Changes

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

UPDATE August 2013: A summary of the Attorney General’s opinion about these legislative changes can be found here. The final hours of the 2010 legislative session produced agreement on changes to the personnel privacy statutes for most public agencies. Prompted by calls for more information about the salary and performance histories of public employees, the […]

Are Local Government Employee Time Sheets Public Records? (Applying the Framework for Answering Questions About Public Records Requests)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

A lot of information about public employees is confidential. It’s well known, however, that what public employees get paid is public. So does that mean that their time sheets are public records? This post addresses the question of whether time sheets are public records using the framework I presented in this post. Imagine that a […]

Is This a Public Record? A Framework For Answering Questions About Public Records Requests

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Responding to requests for public information is an important and time-consuming aspect of the jobs of many local government officials and employees. While some requests are straight-forward, others require analysis and interpretation of the public records law, including its many exceptions. This post provides a basic framework that may be helpful in developing responses to […]

Citizen Participation Information as Public Record

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

UPDATE August 2013: In 2011, a new exception was enacted to limit access to local government email subscriber lists. Click here for a summary of this exception. Local governments work hard to engage and inform their citizens. Technology now provides an increasing number of ways to provide information to and receive information from citizens. From […]

Bidding Confidential

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Your local government has just awarded a contract for digital imaging software to Super Secret Software, Inc., after considering several proposals submitted in response to your request for proposals. Sour Grapes Software, LLC, one of the vendors who submitted a proposal but was not awarded the contract, calls to ask you for a copy of […]

Preserving Minutes and Other Permanent Records

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

The clerk to a local governing board writes that her board, like most boards these days, is interested in finding ways to save money.  Two of their ideas deal with maintaining minutes of board meetings.…

Disclosing Utility Customer Billing Information

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

May a local government or public authority that provides utility or public enterprise services disclose its customer billing information in each of the following scenarios?  (a)  A customer’s relative wants to know if the customer is delinquent on his utility payments; (b)  A prospective home-buyer wants to know the average utility usage by the current owner-customer; […]

Before You Start Recycling Your Bid Files, Read This!

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Your local government has just awarded a contract.  Now what are you supposed to do with all of the bids, bid tabulations, paperwork, and email generated by the bidding process?  Can you throw any of it away?  Do you have to keep any of it, and, if so, for how long?