Mark Johnson, the state superintendent of public instruction, may be violating state law by failing to respond to a public records request, according to an article by N.C. Policy Watch’s Billy Ball, a former INDY staff writer.
N.C. Policy Watch requested emails from the superintendent on January 26, nearly a month after the Republican from Winston-Salem took office. Though the nonprofit subsequently heard back from a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Instruction, progress on the request has since stalled, and emails sent to Johnson’s office in recent months have not yielded any response, Ball reported.
Amanda Martin, general counsel for the N.C. Press Association, told N.C. Policy Watch that “public records laws say public agencies have a responsibility to respond as promptly as possible. There is almost no interpretation of which I would agree they are doing that. For that reason, I think they are violating the law.”
From the article:
Martin says the superintendent’s office appears to be violating one key tenet of the state’s public records law, which advises that public officials such as Johnson should turn over requested documents “as promptly as possible.”
And while Martin points out that communications from an agency such as DPI will include confidential information that must be redacted, the length of time that’s passed to complete a records request for roughly three weeks of emails seems inappropriate.
“The statute does not speak in terms of the number of days,” she said. “But says as soon as these records can be provided, they should be. Based on what I understand of the situation, it appears to me that is not being done.”
This isn’t the first time state officials have come under fire for disregarding public records requests. In 2015, a host of nonprofits and media outlets including the INDYsued former governor Pat McCrory for obstructing access to public records. As we reported in 2015:
The INDY has joined a coalition of other media outlets and nonprofits in suing Gov. Pat McCrory and the heads of several state agencies, alleging that they have violated the state’s open records laws:
- John Skvarla, secretary of the Department of Commerce,
- Donald Van der Vaart, secretary of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources,
- Aldona Wos, Health and Human Services secretary,
- Frank Perry, secretary of the Department of Public Safety,
- William Daughtridge Jr, secretary of the Department of Administration
- Anthony Tata, transportation secretary
- Susan Kluttz, secretary of the cultural resources department
- and Lyons Gray, secretary of the Department of Revenue
As laid out in the suit, which was filed by attorneys Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych in Wake County Superior Court this afternoon, we are asking the state to comply with open records laws.
A spokeswoman for Johnson’s office told the INDY she had not seen or heard about the N.C. Policy Watch article but would pass along our request for comment to the superintendent. We have not yet heard back.