Sunshine Week: Where do candidates stand on open government?

This week is Sunshine Week, a national initiative to stress the importance of open government. What better way to do that than ask statewide political candidates for their positions on government openness.

Reporters from The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer, The News & Record of Greensboro, The Winston-Salem Journal and the Wilson Daily Times did exactly that, interviewing 40 candidates who have filed for statewide political office. The survey was produced for the North Carolina Open Government Coalition.

The survey found that a majority of the candidates in North Carolina favor requiring state agencies that violate public records law to pay legal fees for those who sue for records, and two-thirds of them say that finalists for major state and university positions should be made public.

Here are statements of candidates from Western North Carolina seeking statewide office:

Walter Dalton, Democrat; a state lawmaker from Rutherford County running for lieutenant governor, on his philosophy of government openness: “I think it’s a cornerstone of American democracy. The people have a right to know how government is conducted. There are limited exceptions.”

Joe Johnson, Republican; former public-information officer for the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, running for superintendent of public instruction, on changes he’d like in public-records and open-meetings laws: “I think the most attention should be paid to the local level — county governments and county boards of commissioners often go behind closed doors. That could be looked into. Most issues don’t need to be kept in the dark. Every land acquisition, if you talk about it, you might stimulate competition.”

Pat Smathers, Democrat; mayor of Canton and candidate for lieutenant governor, on changes he’d like in public-records and open-meetings laws:
“Well I think one thing we need to do is improve online access to records. So many people who aren’t in Raleigh may want to have access to records in Raleigh. I’m not sure how we go about doing that but I do think we need to improve online access to records.”

David Young, Democrat; a Buncombe County commissioner running for state treasurer, on what he would do to make the workings of government more transparent:
“We have to have all our records and investments and activities open and aviailbe for people to review. The funds that North Carolina invests in should be open as well.”

Bob Orr, Republican; a Hendersonville native and former N.C. Supreme Court justice, on changes he’d like in public-records and open-meetings laws:
“Yes, two in particular. One would be in the area of economic development, which has all sorts of exceptions from the Open Meetings Law. There need to be changes to ensure greater access to what’s going on. And the second one is, there should be an automatic award of attorneys’ fees for either a media organization or a private citizen who is successful in forcing state or local government to turn over public records.”

Click here for the N.C. Open Government Coalition and to read the survey. Click here for more on Sunshine Week.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor


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One thought on “Sunshine Week: Where do candidates stand on open government?

  1. Cecil Bothwell

    I formed the Asheville Buncombe Policy Institute last fall to create a progressive, grassroots think tank that might offer helpful ideas to local governments.

    Our first policy paper addressed open government and we have urged the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and the Asheville City Council to adopt open government policies similar to Florida’s Sunshine Law. Our research indicates that it is considered by government scholars to be the best open government law in the country.

    Sadly, the commissioners and the councilors discarded our proposal out-of-hand, claiming that the law which has worked effectively in Florida for 40 years is too stringent for local application.

    That reaction is one of the reasons I’m running for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. We’ve seen too many back-room deals, secret water negotiations, and contracts written by their beneficiaries. It is time to open Buncombe’s government to the people who own it.

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