Public employees work for you. Your taxes pay their salary. In fact you — every person reading this — have a right to find out what any public employee is paid.
But if a public employee does something wrong on the job and is disciplined for it, you have no right to find out about it.
That makes North Carolina different from 36 of the other 49 states. Those states have laws that make disciplinary records of public employees open records subject to public review. North Carolina ranks near the bottom in the nation in terms of the records citizens have the right to see about the job performance that their tax dollars fund.
The N.C. General Assembly is considering adding provisions to this state’s open records laws to change that.
Senate Bill 355, the Government Transparency Act, would allow the public to see the reason for hirings, firings, demotions and promotions, opening a window into the management of public personnel and the decisions around their job performance.
Such an open records law sounds like unequivocally sound public policy.
But public employees’ lobbying groups have mounted a campaign based on misinformation and alarmist scenarios to derail this bill.
The State Employees Association of North Carolina, the North Carolina Association of Educators, the Teamsters Union and the N.C. Justice Center flooded senators with a letter inaccurately declaring the bill unconstitutional, and they have persisted in that false portrayal even after sponsors agreed to an amendment addressing their stated concerns regarding legal due process.
The NCAE, for instance, asserts that SB 355 would expand “public access to personnel records of public employees to an inappropriate level far beyond what is expected in any other state.” This is Grade A baloney, to put it kindly.
Not only have 36 states codified access to employee records, many of them require disclosure beyond what would be required by the Government Transparency Act.
Senate Republican leaders remain behind the bill, which includes among its sponsors Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, and Sen. Steve Jarvis, R-Davidson.
Sen. Lisa Barnes, R-Nash and Johnston, and Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Duplin, Johnston and Sampson.
Gov. Roy Cooper and the Democratic leadership have not spoken out, however. Cooper has always been a good-government advocate and a friend of the public’s right to know. In fact, SB 355 is similar to a bill Cooper sponsored as a state senator in 1997, the Discipline Disclosure Act, which passed the Senate but died in a House committee.
Everyone knows that the SEANC and the NCAE wield power in the Democratic Party, but that is no reason for Democrats to take sides against their constituents’ best interests.
Cooper should call out Democratic leaders and the party’s rank and file for going AWOL on a significant public policy improvement and what ought to be bipartisan principles of open government.
Cooper and the Democratic Party can support schoolteachers, state employees, law officers and other public sector employees when it comes to pay, benefits and other priorities, but they ought to part ways with the SEANC and NCAE when they seek to torpedo a bill that would immensely improve government transparency to the benefit of all North Carolinians. Let your legislators know that you support this bill.