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Do you know what your government is doing right now and why?
If not, why don’t you know?
It’s your right to know what the government is doing and why.
In an effort to promote the public’s interest in the goings-on of all government agencies, next week’s issue of The Brunswick Beacon will focus on the public’s right to know.
Journalists from print, broadcast, online and other media outlets across the country will recognize March 16-22 as Sunshine Week.
The Beacon will be among those media outlets, dedicating next week’s issue to access to public meetings, records and information.
Sunshine Week is a national initiative launched by newspaper editors in Florida in 2002 as a weeklong effort aimed at exposing the public to their right to know what the government—from Congress to town halls—is doing and why.
While it was spearheaded by journalists, the goal of Sunshine Week is to expose the public to what information is public record, what meetings are open to the public and why, and how to access this information.
The Beacon will focus on three aspects of the public’s right to know: The Freedom of Information Act, N.C. Public Records Law and N.C. Open Meetings Law.
The Freedom of Information Act, commonly known as FOIA, is a federal mandate that guarantees “public access to records generated by the executive branch of the federal government.”
Both journalists and the public often misuse FOIA at the state and local level because FOIA only applies to records of federal executive agencies.
It does not apply to state or local governments, federal courts, private corporations or records of Congress. The exception to this is if the public record produced by any of the previously listed agencies are filed with federal agencies covered by FOIA.
Next week’s issue of the Beacon will outline what federal agencies are governed through FOIA, and how to make a FOIA request.
In North Carolina, N.C. General Statutes govern state and local public records and open meetings laws and their requests.
Public bodies in North Carolina conducting public business are required to do so in the open.
N.C. General Statue 143-318.9 makes it clear that public business must be done in public:
“Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people’s business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly.”
Next week’s Beacon will outline when public bodies are allowed to convene in closed session, how much notice must be given for public meetings, and what to do if you are denied access to a public meeting.
North Carolina Public Records Law is addressed in chapter 132 of the N.C. General Statutes. Like the open meetings laws, the public records law exists to ensure the public has a right to access information about public bodies.
In 1995, the public records law was amended to say public records are “property of the people.” The Beacon will define what records are public, exceptions to public records laws, how to access the information and what to do if a public record request is denied.
Beacon’s Sunshine Week
In addition to outlining laws regulating the public’s access to meetings and information, next week’s Sunshine Week edition of The Beacon will include an assessment of how local agencies in Brunswick County complied with public records laws.
Throughout the past few weeks, Beacon employees have been traveling to various county and municipal government agencies, making public records requests along the way.
The results were mixed.
Some local agencies complied with the public records requests 100 percent, while some agencies denied access to public records.
These laws exist for the public, not for the press, to access public information.
Next week’s issue will also feature stories published in The Beacon that utilized public records and open meetings laws.
It will also include information outlining what information the public is entitled to, why the public is entitled to the information and how to access the information.
Stay tuned; it’s your right to know.