Sunshine Week

Shining A Light On Our Government

Mar 13, 2018
photo of sunshine week logo - 'your right to  know'
American Society of News Editors / http://sunshineweek.rcfp.org/sw-logos/

North Carolina law gives citizens the right to all sorts of government data, from state employee emails to the minutes of closed meetings. But how reliable are our state institutions when it comes to delivering that data? That is one question that North Carolina reporters hoped to answer this year for Sunshine Week, an annual nationwide event dedicated to holding government agencies accountable and making citizens aware of their rights to open government data.

The entrance to the Wake County Public Schools administration office.
Brian Batista / For WUNC

When North Carolina school board members retreat behind closed doors to discuss sensitive public business, the amount of information they share with the public afterwards varies greatly. While some release detailed notes of their closed-door discussions, others conceal large portions of their meetings, refuse to say how board members voted or release nothing at all.

Durham City Hall
Jason deBruyn / WUNC

Hundreds of times a year across North Carolina, officials who control everything from the taxes you pay the city to the tuition required to attend public universities meet behind closed doors to conduct sensitive business on behalf of the public they serve.

Whether they're elected or appointed, members of these boards on the local and state level can meet out of the view of the public for almost a dozen legitimate reasons, like personnel decisions or discussions of legal strategy. When they do, they’re supposed to keep an account of what happens – and barring specific exceptions, be able to provide that account to the public.

That’s often not the case.

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sunshineweek.org

This week is Sunshine Week, a time when newsmakers and advocates push for increased transparency in government. North Carolina public records law gives citizens and journalists equal access to information and mandates that all requests be responded to "as promptly as possible."