Public Records Law

Gene Nichol

Here in North Carolina we have a public records law:

 § 132-1.  “Public records” defined.

(a)        “Public record” or “public records” shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data-processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. Agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions shall mean and include every public office, public officer or official (State or local, elected or appointed), institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority or other unit of government of the State or of any county, unit, special district or other political subdivision of government.

(b)        The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law. As used herein, “minimal cost” shall mean the actual cost of reproducing the public record or public information.

In short, if you work for the state, your state “stuff” is free to be requested by the public.  It appears that some folks at The University of North Carolina are a titch upset:

A group of law professors at UNC-Chapel Hill is standing behind Gene Nichol, director of the school’s poverty center, after a conservative think tank requested the left-leaning professor’s emails, phone records and calendars.

Thirty law professors signed a letter questioning the motives of the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute, which promotes limited government and implementation of conservative policies. On Oct. 25, the institute used the state’s public records law to seek six weeks’ worth of Nichol’s email correspondence, his calendar entries, phone logs, text messages and a list of electronic devices issued to Nichol by the university.

“Surveilling a professor’s communications is a really troubling approach to protecting liberty,” the law professors wrote in a letter published Tuesday on the Chapel Hill News website and in the paper’s Wednesday print edition. “We deeply admire Gene Nichol’s commitment to protecting and speaking for the state’s poor and disempowered. The only comfort we take from this sorry request by Civitas is our confidence that it will increase his passion.”

Look, I have no idea why Civitas would request Nichols’ stuff, but they don’t have to explain themselves.  The good professor is an employee of the state, and the law says that people who are such employees are obligated to deliver their stuff when requested.

I think that a larger threat against our liberty is not that Government has to answer to the people, but that the people are somehow supposed to explain their desire to want that answer.

7 responses to “Public Records Law

  1. Wow, I didn’t expect that you were a statist! Being an “employee” of the state doesn’t mean you give up your rights and your ability to communicate without everyone being able to see all your e-mails. If it’s now “employees” of the state, soon it will be all citizens. Your individual rights don’t matter – all can be shared with the collective. Do you really want to go there?

    • Statist?! *chuckle* *head shake* Do you even know what that word means?

      [[[If it’s now “employees” of the state, soon it will be all citizens.]]]

      LOL! *eye roll*

    • Being an “employee” of the state doesn’t mean you give up your rights and your ability to communicate without everyone being able to see all your e-mails.

      He has every right to communicate without everyone seeing his emails. He just doesn’t have the right to not deliver his public emails and communication.

      If it’s now “employees” of the state, soon it will be all citizens.

      Oh, Scott. You are not so naive to think that we aren’t being monitored? The NSA has admitted as such.

      And by the way, this isn’t some big brother government over reach – this is the public keeping tabs on the government.

  2. Do you think that the emails and calendars of a law professor are “made … in connection with the transaction of public business” of North Carolina? The Civitas president even says that what they want to get at is stuff “way outside of his role as a professor.” That seems clearly to be outside the lines of the public records law. I also don’t think he’s part of a “unit of government.” Just because the school is public doesn’t mean that professors are government agents enacting state policy.

    • Do you think that the emails and calendars of a law professor are “made … in connection with the transaction of public business” of North Carolina? The Civitas president even says that what they want to get at is stuff “way outside of his role as a professor.”

      I think that if he is using UNC resources, think time and money for his Center on Poverty, to advance an agenda, it’s perfectly reasonable to check his communication.

      If they are looking for conversations between the good prof and his students – shady. If they think that he is abusing his influence – perfectly reasonable.

      Just because the school is public doesn’t mean that professors are government agents enacting state policy.

      But I do think that he is bound by NC State law that requires him to give up his records.

  3. Then don’t use work email for things you don’t want your boss (in this case, the constituency) to see, and don’t blur the line by using private email accounts to conduct business – you know, same as the private sector.

    • 1) He’s a professor, I’m sure there are plenty of legitimate things he emails about that he doesn’t want published. For example, maybe he wrote an email to another professor criticizing the direction the school has taken academically. Maybe he wrote an email to a student telling them that their performance has been subpar. There are myriad examples of things that could be official work emails for a professor that still aren’t transacting state business.

      2) What is your point? That he should turn over personal emails too simply because they were on a work computer? I can see the point that he has a lowered expectation of privacy; the school could monitor his emails and fire him for improper use of the systems, but that doesn’t make the content of those emails a public record.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *