I believe that it is our duty as elected officials to set the standard when it comes to accessibility of Public Records.
Nancy Vaughan responds to Jamiah Waterman: "I suggest that we contact the Attorney General’s Office for an advisory opinion on how to handle records that are not explicitly included or excluded in existing legislation."
Kinda fitting to be having this conversation in public.
Read the whole thing after the jump.
TO: Mayor and Members of City Council
Denise Turner-Roth, Interim City Manager
Jamiah Waterman, Interim City Attorney
FROM: Nancy Vaughan
DATE: March 20, 2012
SUBJECT: Personnel Exclusion
I realize that it is the duty of the City Attorney’s office to protect the City against possible litigation and to that end I understand their interpretation of the “Privacy of employee personnel records” in the narrowest sense. It is obvious that some future legislature will have to refine NCGS 160A-168 to include documents that this current legislation fails to either include or exclude.
The “Guide to Open Government and Public Records” a publication of the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office, states the following “Consistent with the principle that records and information compiled by state and local governments belong to the people, the North Carolina Supreme Court has developed guideposts for interpreting the law to be used by courts and government officials charged with fulfilling their disclosure obligations to the public. Specifically: a) the Public Records Act is to be read liberally in favor of public access to records and information; and b) exemptions from the Act’s mandatory disclosure requirement are to be read narrowly.”
I believe the question that the City is currently wrestling with is how liberally or how narrowly we should interpret current legislation, especially when the statutes are silent on a particular issue. I would like to know what guideposts the North Carolina Supreme Court have developed for interpreting our disclosure obligation to the public. I think that the very fact that the Supreme Court found it necessary to develop guideposts to assist courts and government officials in interpreting the law shows that there are issues open to debate.
Since the statutes are silent on records such as: employee expense accounts, advanced training, certifications and commendations (just to name a few) doesn’t mean that those documents are not public records. I would argue that those documents should be in the public domain. How ironic is it that employee commendations are disallowed under the current reading of 160A-168 but employee disciplinary actions are public records under the current legislation?
In January, I requested, and received, a listing of specialized training and certifications earned by Reserve Officers. I assume that that information is part of their personnel files. 160A-168 is silent on specialized training and certifications. Was the City in violation by divulging that information? I don’t think so. But a strict interpretation of 160A-168 may lead you to that conclusion.
I think it’s important to make sure that we are following the “spirit” of the law, protecting the public integrity and fulfilling our obligations under the law while minimizing the City’s exposure to possible litigation. Since it appears that there is no way to bridge the current stalemate, I suggest that we contact the Attorney General’s Office for an advisory opinion on how to handle records that are not explicitly included or excluded in existing legislation.
I believe that it is our duty as elected officials to set the standard when it comes to accessibility of Public Records. I think that this is an important issue and one worth further investigation.
CC: Ken Miller, Police Chief
Michael Speedling, Assistant City Manager
Jim Clark, Police Attorney