Sunshine Laws 15 January 15

CCTA Watchdog Report 15 January 15
Sunshine Laws

Recently, I learned that two veterans became so frustrated with their county board members that they placed them under arrest. READ MORE ABOUT THAT.

The cause of their frustration was that the board failed to follow the Illinois Open Meeting Act, a Class C misdemeanor.  It occurred to me that North Carolina might also have Open Meetings laws, so I did some research and here is some of what I found:

NORTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL’S GUIDE TO OPEN GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC RECORDS. You can read the entire report  by clicking  HERE.  You Can read the North Carolina General Statutes being referred to  HERE.
Indeed North Carolina does have Open Meeting laws! One set is called the Public Records Act and another the Open Meetings Laws. Together they are called “Sunshine Laws.” Shining light into dark places, I am sure.Here are a few that I believe you should know about and some that the Craven County Board of Commissioners need to be more careful to observe:

The public has a right to see a meeting agenda and accompanying handouts. The County staff often has not prepared well in advance and hands out papers at the last minute to members of the Board, without offering them to citizens in attendance. THIS IS AGAINST THE LAW!! I’m sure the Board has not called them down for it because they don’t want to publicly embarrass staff members, but it needs to be done.


YOU have a right to be notified of an unscheduled meeting if you request the notification in writing. I INTEND TO DO THIS AND HOPE MANY OF YOU WILL. The agency can charge up to $10 for the service for anyone not in the news media, but are not required to. The public must be given at least a 48 hour notice of all meetings, including an agenda and accompanying documents.   The Board and staff are not allowed to deliberate, vote, or otherwise take action unless it is referenced to an agenda and materials are sufficiently worded to enable the public to understand what is being deliberated, voted, or acted upon, and are available for public inspection at the meeting.


If any meeting is recessed, formal notice of when and where it will be reconvened must be given during the meeting that was recessed. IT IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO SIMPLY SAY THAT THIS MEETING WILL BE RECONVENED HERE WHEN THAT ONE IS OVER. Simply ask the Chairman and the staff how much time they need and plan accordingly.


There is no specified procedure or form necessary to request copies of public records. There is no requirement for the person making the request to state the reason for the request, not even that they provide their name or any identification.


Anyone denied copies of or access to public records can bring a civil action in court against the government agency or official who denied access. Courts are required to set public records lawsuits for immediate hearings and give hearings of these cases priority over other cases.


You’d  think these communications are secret forever the way lawyers talk. HOWEVER, the communications are restricted for three years only, after which they automatically become public records and are then subject to inspection by the public.


Closed sessions are not unofficial meetings where member of public bodies may discuss anything they want and take any action they want. The subjects that may be discussed and actions that may be taken are limited and specific.   MINUTES MUST BE KEPT AND ARE PUBLIC RECORDS. The minutes are available for public inspection as soon as the need for confidentiality is over. If the recess is for legally confidential information, the law that makes the information confidential must be stated in the motion to hold the closed session. If some settlement is made in closed session, the settlement must be reported publicly within a reasonable time after the settlement is concluded. If a body holds a closed session to receive advice from its attorney about an existing lawsuit the name of the parties in the lawsuit must be included in the motion to hold the closed session.


I know at least one occasion in which this law was obviously broken, and I suspect there have been others. THIS NEEDS TO STOP!!!

Hal James
CCTA Watchdog Committee

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