Archive for the ‘North Carolina’ Category
The citizenry and government both come to the wrong conclusions about the ready availability of public records on the Internet. The City of Raleigh, North Carolina and Wake County joined dozens of other communities that have begun integrating crime activity into interactive mapping. Local real estate developers and agents object, believing that “public crime data… will lower housing prices.” Some people are getting acquainted with the meaning of “public records” for the first time through the government Web sites, complaining about an invasion of privacy because others can see their address and name in the Assessor’s records. Alternatively, they embrace access when the records concern people they want to know about, such as sex offenders. Privacy advocates have campaigned to seal criminal records for first-time offenders, which Florida is doing at 3 times the number as 10 years ago, according to this analysis. Even in these cases, law enforcement continues to keep a record of the criminal history.
Public officials sometimes sound defensive when bringing public records into the Internet age, asserting that particular types of personal information isn’t included. Or they remove the documents or data that was once on the Web, as in the case of the El Paso County, Colorado inmate log. The Sheriff has restricted the listing of the criminal charges to classification numbers as a reaction to inmate assaults. If the availability of public records on the Internet isn’t mandated by law, as in the case of the sex offender registries, it’s always subject to being withdrawn.
Agencies could better serve the goal of open government by reducing the number of exemptions to disclosure. The Washington State Attorney General announced a meeting to review the Public Disclosures Act exemptions, which have grown from 10 in 1972 to more than 300 today.
The County Clerk of Oneida County, New York removed land records from its Web site, a promise of her political campaign. Now, she proposes to make document images available online to a handpicked elite, including attorneys (to whom she was speaking when this offer was made), ostensibly because the records are used in the course of their work. You see the basis for redefining the “public” in “public records”, right? Arbitrary. Capricious. Preferential.
The Missouri Attorney General has unveiled a database of filed consumer complaints that can be searched by company name or partial name.The database includes more than 100,000 complaints filed since January 1, 2004. View the complaint number, type of complaint, the number of complaints and the date filed. The site does not provide any information on whether the complaint was pursued by the Attorney General or what the result of any investigation might have been.
The Tennessee Sexual Offender Registry has been expanded to include mapping and photographs of all offenders, and more offenders than were previously on the Web site. Registry of sex offenders expanding, Chattanooga Times Free Press, July 27, 2007.
In advance of any state law, the Rockland County, New York Clerk has installed software that will remove Social Security numbers from the online version of recorded documents. According to this article, New York state tax liens now use a different number than the Social Security number on documents.
A bill signed by the governor of North Carolina will marginally facilitate the reconnection of birth parents and the children they relinquished for adoption. If both parties agree, the adoption placement services will act as confidential intermediaries, providing the birth parents and adult children with each other’s contact information.
Salaries of Delaware state employees who are paid with non public funds are not public records, according to an opinion issued this year by the Delaware Attorney General. Delaware State University solicited the opinion in response to a Freedom of Information request. At the time the AG assessed the University’s accounting system he concluded that it coded employee records to distinguish between employees paid with private money and those receiving payments from public funds. The determination is particularly troubling because the two employees on whom the data was requested are both state legislators.[Reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education.]
Of course, any public agency can follow the example of the North Carolina Columbus County Board of Commissioners and bury a public record in a confidential personnel file, then declare – mistakenly – that it’s not a public record.
Search collections of Washington State and Washington cities employee salary databases at this private Web site. Search statewide or within a city or agency. Data is collected for some sources for as much as 7 years. The site also has other databases and links to Washington State government databases for voters, real property ownership, inmates, court filings, restaurant inspections, recorded documents and newspaper name searches.
This South Dakota newspaper did a round-up of each state’s policy on release of government employee names and their pay, and whether an online searchable database was available. It would be a better reference tool if the site had provided hyperlinks to the state salary databases that are online.
Read prior PI buzz postings on databases and issues related to government employee salaries.
This week in public records: California – Connecticut – North Carolina – Nebraska – New York – Minnesota
The Los Angeles County Superior Court has ruled that church personnel files of priests accused of molesting children may be released to the public, whether or not there was a criminal prosecution. The decision affects a small number of clergy but tips the balance in favor of the public right to know over privacy, which could affect many other cases.
Santa Clara County, California is continuing to fight a Superior Court determination that its GIS mapping should be easily available to the public at low cost. Meanwhile, Greenwich, Connecticut has assented to that state’s Supreme Court ruling and will post aerial photographs of the town on its Web site. Both government agencies used the specious defense that freely available geographic information systems maps were a security risk.
Folks in North Carolina may want to comment at the blog of a county Register who removed vital records from the Internet, then wrote about it.
The state police can demand lists of email activity conducted by a business if they deem it relevant to an investigation, according to an opinion by the Nebraska Attorney General. This includes “non content” records retained by providers of electronic communication services, such as ISP records of email headers, but not the email message.
Appeals filed with the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals are now searchable online. More extensive information is available for cases filed after March 2003.
The Ohio Office of Homeland Security, which licenses security guards, is having trouble keeping an accurate count of licensees since a recent requirement went into effect that employers register each new security guard hire. [State system doesn’t allow exact accounting of security guards, CantonRep.com, May 29, 2007.]
The state estimates about 21,000 individuals holding security guard licenses but says that number could be inflated by as much as 3,000 since employees are registered each time they go to work for a new company, meaning some could be registered multiple times.
Meanwhile, changes in access to public records in Ohio may make it difficult for even law enforcement to do background checks. Recently passed legislation shields personal information in public records on some government employees and their family members.
The New York Drug Dealer Registry Act, recently introduced legislation, would require drug dealers with felony convictions to register upon release from prison.
The North Carolina Court of Appeal ruled against a newspaper that sought clemency appeal applications under the state public records law. [North Carolina Appeals Court Holds That Public Records Act Does Not Apply to Clemency Applications, Media Law Prof, June 7, 2007]
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agrees with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that juror names are releasable under the state public records act. The newspaper was rebuffed in its request for juror addresses. [Names of criminal trial jurors are public, RCFP, June 5, 2007]
The Arizona Court of Appeal agreed with Phoenix Newspaper, Inc. that a claim for damages made against a school district is a public record, even in the case of a rape of a minor. [Ruling: Rape victim's compensation claim public record, Arizona Republic, June 12, 2007]
The Tennessee Supreme Court has overturned the law enforcement privilege in the state public records act, making police field interview cards, which The Jackson Sun newspaper had sought, available under the Public Records Act.
The Colorado governor will likely sign a bill next month that will enable people to seal their court records pertaining to charges that were dismissed, not filed or when the defendant is acquitted. The RCFP story
Proposed legislation in North Carolina would redact personal information from vehicle crash reports, make failure to disclose public records a misdemeanor, restrict from discovery prosecutors’ witness interviews and names of confidential informants, and open access to employment information on government employees but close personnel records.