Our View: Boone stalls on records request
The North Carolina statutes regarding the release of public records upon request is, at best, a gray area in public records law. Indeed, the statute says that public officials must comply "as promptly as possible."
Now, "promptly" can mean different things to different people, but a request made more than 14 weeks ago would hardly seem to fit anyone's sense of the word - or statute.
For the record, on May 2, the Watauga Democrat requested emails and other written communication to or from Mayor Loretta Clawson, Boone Town Council, Affordable Task Force members, Town Manager Greg Young and Town Attorney Sam Furgiuele from Nov. 1, 2012 to the present, related to, among other things, the town's Unified Development Ordinance, the sale of the old Watauga High School - to Templeton Properties - and a potential lawsuit against the town by Watauga County. We also requested open and closed session minutes related to a potential lawsuit and/or potential sales tax changes by the county, since Nov. 1, 2012.
While we requested that these documents be provided by May 16, by today, Aug. 11, not a single document has been turned over from the town.
And so, we've asked why.
We asked on May 15. We were told other requests were in front of ours.
We would have asked in June, but were encouraged on June 20 after council member Lynne Mason, seconded by Rennie Brantz, made a motion to unseal closed session minutes within certain parameters that appeared related to our request.
When no documents were forthcoming, we asked again on July 16. We were told another "big request" was in front of ours.
On July 22, we asked what actions were taken following a July 18 consultation with the town attorney in closed session about "the unsealing of closed session minutes of the Boone Town Council."
On July 23, the town clerk said she still had not received the minutes from the town attorney.
A followup email this week has yet to be answered.
It's worth mentioning at this point that a similar request made in May to Watauga County was fulfilled -- in May. On May 17, the county released to the Watauga Democrat more than 1,000 emails.
We don't want to jump to rash judgments, but delaying and stalling the release of public information can lead to perceptions that may or may not be accurate. The only way to ensure government is acting in the best interest of those being governed is through the inspection of public records provided "as promptly as possible."
That is not happening today in Boone.