Happy Sunshine WeekLocal government transparent; hospital, college should try harder
March 11-15 is celebrated nationwide as Sunshine Week — a week dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of open government and open access to public information.
Even though the event was created by journalists who utilize public records every day, the public should be aware of the state laws pertaining to open government and public records.
An open government is what allows citizens to play an active role in their local, state and even federal government. The first step is to know your rights. We hope we are doing our part this week by informing you of some of your rights you may not be aware of and to encourage the community to take an active role in local government.
Sunshinereview.org is a great website that rates the transparency of your state, county, cities and school districts.
The United States Public Interest Research Group gives North Carolina a ‘B+’ rating for providing online access to government spending data. However, the State Integrity Investigation, which grades state ethics laws, gave North Carolina at ‘C-‘ and is ranked 18 out of 50 states. Out of the 14 different categories, the state received a ‘F’ for public access to information, state budget processes and redistricting. It received an ‘A’ on lobbying disclosures.
The website also gave Haywood County’s website a ‘C-‘ rating in 2012 because contracts weren’t provided online and because the site didn’t provide information on how people can make a public record request.
While the website may still need some improvements, we have found Haywood County officials to be very forthcoming with public information and documents. Reasonable requests are honored in a timely manner.
Haywood’s towns and school district don’t have a ranking yet, but when requesting a police report or other documents, we’ve never had to fill out an official request under the Freedom of Information Act. That is a good sign of an open government. Any government agency that has properly-trained its employees regarding the state’s open record and open meetings laws should be commended because it is a crucial aspect of establishing public trust.
On the other hand, we haven’t had the best of luck getting information from MedWest since the the organizational form was changed from a public nonprofit to a private nonprofit. Before, most issues before the Haywood Regional Medical Center board were discussed in open session, financial information was readily available and many other records were shared.
When the new organization format was being selected, we pleaded, to no avail, for the public nonprofit format to be retained. That didn’t happen, and now all MedWest business is decided behind closed doors, though in all fairness, it is the same as in most other hospitals across the nation.
The Haywood Regional Medical Center board meetings are still open to the public, but we’ve found almost everything that would provide a glimpse into how the hospital is doing has been reserved for the closed sessions.
Haywood Community College has been great to work with in the past, and we hope the same will be true under the new president yet to be named.
The closed process used by the college’s governing board to select the new president was a disappointing one. It was the board’s choice to reveal only the name of the candidate ultimately selected.
It is not uncommon for finalists for a college presidency to be introduced to the community during the vetting process, and to even give stakeholders in the process a chance to weigh in on the process.
We hope the new college president will be more transparent than the board that selected him or her.
If government agencies, educational institutions and companies have nothing to hide from their constituents, officials should be forthcoming with information immediately.
Just as “iron sharpens iron”, allowing public review of actions in progress, and seeking our participation in decisions, will automatically make any institution more conscientious and responsible to their community at
To educate yourself on North Carolina’s open meeting and public records laws, visit www.ncpress.com/ncpa/statutes.html.