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Ever wonder if you’re getting the whole story?
So do we.
But the law is on our—the public’s—side, and it ensures we have access to public meetings and records.
When reporting on stories, Beacon reporters always strive to get all relevant information—whether that’s demanding access to open meetings or requesting public records, we always search for the whole story.
Here are stories that were published in The Brunswick Beacon you would have missed if Beacon reporters hadn’t used N.C. Public Records and Open Meetings Laws:
• “Calabash Commissioners fire town administrator,” Feb. 28.
A reporter with the Beacon challenged
Calabash commissioners about the nature of a closed session, which resulted in the termination of town administrator Donna Prince.
After challenging commissioners about the nature of the closed session, commissioners argued it was to discuss personnel policy and to establish a “code of ethics,” which the reporter argued was not covered by the North Carolina Open Meetings Law. The only action announced by mayor Anthony Clemmons was “a consensus of the board that he and two commissioners would begin meeting with town employees ‘to discuss concerns and how we can make our team better,’” he said, adding “We’re also going to adopt a code of ethics for the board.”
In an editorial published in the same issue, the Beacon argued the board was in violation of the open meetings law. “While the board was legally entitled to discuss a specific personnel matter, in which a decision was made to fire town administrator Donna Prince, the other items discussed cross the line.”
“There is no excuse for a public body to blatantly break the law,” we argued.
• “Inmates’ work logs released,” Feb. 7.
County attorney Huey Marshall released to local media outlets inmate work logs subpoenaed by the Federal Grand Jury in January.
In addition to the inmate work logs released to the media, The Brunswick Beacon requested and obtained inmate work logs for September and November to provide a more thorough and accurate account of the inmates’ whereabouts for three months vs. other media outlets that only reported on one month’s worth of inmate locations.
• “Subpoenaed documents released,” Jan. 31.
The first series of subpoenaed documents related to the federal investigation of the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office were released in January, including more than 300 pages of inter-office e-mails.
The Brunswick Beacon first filed a public records request June 7 for all documents subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office related to the federal investigation.
Marshall said the delay in furnishing the public records was due to the volume of the subpoenaed documents and the need to redact confidential personnel information. The bulk of the e-mails provided to the Beacon were correspondences to and from Hewett’s then executive assistant detective Kyle Jones, including an invoice for 500 Koozies and cups to be billed to the Committee to Elect Ronald E. Hewett.
The county board of elections complied with a Beacon reporter’s request to view Hewett’s campaign finances and furnished a letter from the state board of elections director regarding Hewett’s campaign fund. The Beacon also contacted an attorney for the N.C. Press Association for an objective legal opinion regarding the nature of the e-mails.
•San Rio vs. Town of Shallotte
In three stories that ran on Oct. 25, 2007; Nov. 29, 2007; and Feb. 14, Shallotte Town Administrator Paul Sabiston provided the Beacon with documentation that helped explain the detailed nature of a conflict between the town and a developer of San Rio.
Last fall, Sabiston sent a letter to the state Division of Water Quality stating officials had discovered that developers of San Rio, a multi-phase development planned for Gray Bridge Road, had installed sewer lines before receiving state permits.
Division officials then sent a letter to the town indicating the permit approval process had been suspended pending an investigation into the developers’ actions.
Sabiston sent both letters to The Brunswick Beacon around the same time he and the board of aldermen confronted employees of Wakefield Coastal, the San Rio developers, and their engineers, East Coast Engineering and Surveying of Shallotte.
A week later, he provided the Beacon with a copy of another letter from the state Division of Water Quality stating the town could be fined up to $500,000 and asking for a response from the town and the developers.
He also provided a copy of the response from the developers’ attorney, defending the actions as not legal because no live sewer was going in.
In February, Sabiston provided the Beacon a copy of the notice from the Division of Water Quality stating that Sandler of Shallotte, the San Rio developers’ parent company, was fined $10,000 plus enforcement costs because they had “knowingly and willfully” decided to initiate construction of the sewer lines before the pending application was approved in October.
• “Ocean Isle fire victims’ autopsy results released,” Jan. 10.
North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner Dr. John Butts complied with a Beacon reporter’s public records request for autopsy results for the seven students who perished in a fatal blaze Oct. 28 in Ocean Isle Beach. In addition to the autopsy report, any findings or interpretations are also public record (G.S. 132-1.8), which were also furnished as part of the public record request.
The findings the medical examiner provided to the Beacon included alcohol being listed as “a contributing condition” for one of the fire victims.
Staff writer Sarah Shew Wilson contributed to this story.
Caroline Curran is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org