Your recent article “Road to Nowhere: Search for Documents Leads to Reform at A-B Tech” [Oct. 12, Xpress] greatly misrepresented A-B Tech’s response to two recent public records inquiries and unfortunately omitted key information that would have enlightened your readers and resulted in a different conclusion.
During a lengthy interview about your requests and the processes at A-B Tech, I stressed, first and foremost, A-B Tech’s respect for transparency and the public’s right to know the business of our college. After working in journalism and communications for 35 years, I have been on both sides of many public records requests and have a healthy respect for the media’s role in keeping the public informed.
While there are many points in the article with which we could take issue, these are the key problems:
Your first request for public communications concerning the quarter-cent sales tax referendum in 2011 was not denied. The request specifically sought public communications from four people no longer at the college. We asked questions to try to find out what type of information the reporter was looking for because, as advised by our attorneys, the college is not required by law to keep most public records or employee email for five years. Everything the college had concerning the sales tax referendum also was made available during public records requests years ago and could be found by searching online; however, we attempted to comply and looked for any communications we might still have between those four individuals in 2011. I fully explained the process to your reporter and at no point denied the request. I also told your reporter that A-B Tech and Buncombe County regularly report on the use of the sales-tax money in many different public forums and communications.
The second request for public communications concerning the Connect NC bond referendum earlier this year was received on Aug. 18, which was the first week of our fall semester and during my emergency medical leave; however, it was reviewed by our attorneys and fulfilled within 24 hours of UNC Asheville’s response to the same request. Yet your story portrayed A-B Tech as the lone “uncooperative” college, despite the fact that public records law does not specify a deadline and says only that we should respond within a reasonable time frame. Considering I was out for seven weeks and returned Sept. 6 during our busiest time of year, we would argue that we responded as reasonably as possible.
While A-B Tech has never had a problem fulfilling public records requests, your reporter seemed to want to establish a problem with our procedures. I did tell him that my unexpected medical leave was a good opportunity to review backup procedures for unplanned absences. I also said that we were coincidentally invited to a state public records workshop, and that it was a good opportunity to assure the college is fully compliant in every area, but that it occurred in the normal course of business and in no way was related to this public records request. We regret that the Mountain Xpress misconstrued statements and omitted key facts seemingly in order to structure a negative story about A-B Tech. We are grateful for the support of our community and remain comfortable that we operate in a transparent and responsive manner as we conduct the business of public education.
— Kerri Glover
Community Relations & Marketing
A-B Tech Community College
Editor’s response: We believe our article is fair and balanced, reporting both A-B Tech’s statements about its respect for transparency and its intent to improve its procedures. Our investigation did not seek to establish a problem with A-B Tech’s responses to our open records requests. Rather, it uncovered problems with the college’s responses during the course of our investigation. The article notes Glover’s absence for medical leave. It also provides evidence that A-B Tech failed to meet North Carolina’s records-retention requirements. Was there a connection between our public records request and the college’s decision to attend the state public records workshop? Glover told us, “As a result of [Xpress’ open records request], we are going to be looking at everything that’s recommended in the retention schedule with our attorneys.” Glover also told Xpress, “The timing was such that I looked at [the workshop] and said because we are going through this process, this would be a really good idea.”