Your right to know: getting records
Matthew Eisley, Staff Writer, News & Observer, Aug. 21, 2007
Q: How forthrightly do government officials respond to citizen and news media requests for copies of public records?
A: That varies widely, depending on the agency and the person. As a general rule, bigger local governments are more responsive than smaller ones. That's not necessarily true of state government, however, and certainly not of the federal government. What's more, even veteran public servants in big cities sometimes chafe at scrutiny.
When The Charlotte Observer asked last month to see all the official e-mail messages of Mayor Pat McCrory and council members, the mayor balked.
"Who's going to pay us to find the staff to do this?" McCrory asked. He also asked how much it would cost. "A lot," the city attorney told the mayor then, though the expense later proved to be minimal.
McCrory turned to an Observer reporter and said, "Y'all have lost it."
But state law is clear: Most e-mail messages about city business are public records, and anyone is entitled to copies of them upon request.
Ed Williams, the Observer's editorial page editor, responded with a column that concluded: "McCrory is right on this point: Our public records law can be expensive, intrusive and annoying. But that's a cost of making government responsible to the people."
To read Williams' entire column, you can go online to:
("Your right to know" offers a quick lesson on public records and meetings. Go to share.triangle.com to check out entries and to post your own questions and experiences. Look for the "Your right to know" link. Staff writer Matthew Eisley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 829-4538 or The News & Observer, 215 S. McDowell St., Raleigh, N.C. 27602.)