Civitas Review

CLF Files Public Records Suit on Behalf of NC Family

Sep
03

The Civitas Institute Center for Law and Freedom is representing a North Carolina family in their public records lawsuit against the City of Belmont. At issue is whether a third-party, taxpayer-funded investigation is a public record. The Charlotte Observer reports:

The Civitas Institute is suing the city of Belmont, saying it has refused to release the results of an investigation into the city’s police department after a 2012 chase that left two people dead.

The complaint was filed in Gaston County court on Friday on behalf of Dan Deitz and Ellen Deitz, whose sister, Donna, was killed by a driver fleeing Belmont police in February 2012, according to the institute, a nonprofit conservative think tank based in Raleigh…

…Belmont police changed their chase policy as a result of the deaths, and the city launched an investigation into the department.

Earlier this year, the Deitzes filed a public records request with the city asking to see the results of the investigation, hoping it would shed light on the death of their sister, according to the Civitas Institute’s lawsuit.

The city denied the request, saying N.C. statutes prevent Belmont from releasing information about personnel records, which are contained in the investigation.

It's natural for media outlets such as the Charlotte Observer, NBC Charlotte, and the Gaston Gazette to focus on the deadly car crash in 2012 as a central part of this story. And indeed, the lawsuit alleges that there is likely information in the investigative report related to that night. But in fact, this lawsuit is primarily about public records and transparency. The Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition sheds some light on the legal issues at the center of this case:

Last year Belmont hired U.S. ISS Agency, a private investigation firm, to conduct an investigation into complaints about the police department. Separately Deitz and Tucker hired a private investigator to look into their sister's death. The private investigator requested a copy of U.S. ISS Agency's report on the police department under the Public Records Law, according to the complaint filed in court. The city denied access to the report claiming it is exempt under the municipal personnel statute.

The Civitas Institute Center for Law and Freedom then stepped in and requested the same documents on behalf of Deitz and Tucker, noting that in News & Observer v. Poole, under a similar statute, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that information gathered by a third-party investigator would not be considered part of a personnel record unless it was first gathered by the government agency.

The lawsuit filed Friday is asking the court to require the city to provide a copy of the investigative report.

Read more about the lawsuit here.

Concerns about Raleigh's Rezoning Plan

Sep
03

My latest piece for the Civitas Institute discusses Raleigh's rezoning plan, citizens' concerns, and the legal outlook in terms of property rights. The city seemed unprepared for the massive public outcry over what the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) would mean for long-term residents' way of life. Some feel that the city is giving too much control over to federal and international entities by taking national grants and adopting United Nations standards:

Zoning is supposed to be performed at the municipal level, subject to state laws. But some Raleigh residents are concerned that the city’s planning initiative is largely driven by federal and international guidelines.

The City of Raleigh’s 2012-2013 annual grant report lists of a number of federal grants that push top-down ideas of how municipalities should plan for the future. Wonderful as the money may seem, federal largesse does not come without strings attached.

Moreover, the WCTA is concerned that the UDO is part of a larger push for international control. “The cornerstone of the vision for these plans is sustainability,” the WCTA said. “Sustainability entails a green infrastructure that is costly, is an international plan, and is not part of our American form of government.”

Such standards, combined with the American Planning Association’s commitment to “social justice,” have put conservatives on alert that control of their lives is more and more based on high-level, top-down initiatives rather than local needs.

Read the entire piece here.

Cut This, Go Home

Sep
03

This week, Civitas has been running a series called "Cut This, Go Home." With the state budget still unresolved two months into the fiscal year, we figured we could remind legislators of some items they could cut in order to help wrap things up so they could all go home.

After all, as Mark Twain said: “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."

Check out the articles here.

The series picks just a small number of 'low-hanging fruit' but still adds up to tens of millions of dollars in non-essential spending and subsidies. It would be amazing how easily budget negotiators could find funding for the core services if they had the courage to cut some of the obvious fat.

This budget impasse is a great opportunity to trim some of unnecessary spending from the budget once and for all.

Thoughts on NC Test Scores

1
Sep
03

schoolreportcards

Test results regarding the performance and growth of North Carolina public schools were released yesterday. For the most part, the news was a mixed bag. And, to the dismay of many, there were few significant changes.

While news outlets and blogs are providing plenty of commentary, I’d like to share a few general observations

Grades.  Let’s not forget North Carolina adopted a fifteen point grading system last year (A= 100-85, B=70-84 etc. etc. etc.). By definition the bar was lowered. Without the changes, things would have looked far worse.

Progress.  When compared to last year fewer schools met overall targets for academic performance.  A quick look at most charts reveals most categories had little change – some small gains and losses – from last year. There were no significant changes in overall trend lines.

College and Career Readiness:  Get used to this phrasing.  NCDPI is using this in place of the toxic phrase Common Core Standards which – to my knowledge – appears nowhere in any of the releases.

Charter Schools: A higher percentage of charter schools (48.6 percent) received top scores (either an A, both designations or B) than traditional public schools (29.3 percent).  Though some charter schools are still struggling, overall they held their own when compared to their public school counterparts.

Graduation Rates. North Carolina’s improving high school graduation rate received much publicity. Progress is good and should be applauded. However the quality of the education is also important. We must remember that 52 percent of recent High School Graduates enrolled in one or more remediation class at local community colleges. Also, only 18 percent of North Carolina juniors met all four benchmark scores for college readiness on the ACT exam.

The Raleigh News and Observer  quotes State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson as saying that it sometimes takes  five or six years after a switch to see "a notable difference."  Five or six years? That doesn't sound like accountability to me.

Greensboro to Public: 'Ashley' Emails Not Your Business

2
Sep
02

Imagine you own a business, and you find out one of your employees has been using his or her company email to link to Ashley Madison, the website that supposedly arranges affairs between married people. Wouldn't you want to know about it? Maybe call that person in for a little talk?

The City of Greensboro, however, seems to think that would be none of your business.

Over at NC Capitol Connection, Matt Caulder has been looking into government emails that have turned up in a hack of the site. He encountered a startling claim by a municipal government: Email apparently sent via a City of Greensboro account to Ashley Madison supposedly is none of the public's business.

And we thought that public employees are employees of the public.

Here's the crux of the issue: The people deserve to know what their employees are doing.

Let's look at it another way: Let's say an employee is using his Greensboro city email, during business hours, to play World of Warcraft for hours on end.

If you're that employee's boss, that's your business. And we the people are the bosses of our public servants, and we have a right to know if they're using public resources to play video games.

And if a government employee was using city resources, and perhaps time, to try to set up some hanky-panky, that's our business.

That's why Ashley Madison-connected emails are public records. It's not whether the email itself concerned official business. The whole point is that the email itself didn't concern public business — and that is a misuse of public resources (and, possibly, time). That makes it public business.

For more about NC Capitol Connection's look at the scandal, click here.

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