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Academics’ call for secrecy would undermine democracy in North Carolina

Posted Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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Raleigh, NC - Civitas Institute President Francis X. De Luca has released the following statement in response to the “open letter” sent to Gov. Pat McCrory and state budget director Art Pope. The letter is signed by nearly 300 academics and criticizes a basic public records request made by the Civitas Institute of a public employee.

“The open letter reveals a shocking disregard for the facts. It is simply false that we are seeking UNC Professor Gene Nichol’s ‘personal’ correspondence’. We are seeking only public records created using public resources at a taxpayer-funded institution. This is a right available to any citizen, and no reason need be given.

“Moreover, I am dismayed that college professors should have so little understanding of public records requests. The professors admit open records laws are essential to democracy – but they decry our attempt to actually use those laws. Heeding the letter would allow state-funded universities to conduct their work in secret. That would undermine democracy, and open the door to abuses.

“For example, public records requests helped expose a scandal in the athletics department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Such requests not only help reveal questionable behavior, they can also deter it by reminding employees that state institutions are open to public scrutiny.

“All state employees should know that they report to the people of North Carolina, and that anyone can request public documents. Or do the letter signers think professors are an elite class above the law, and they can keep their work secret from the taxpayers who fund their salaries?

“The letter-signers also fail to note that Civitas’ request includes Nichol’s activities as head of the Poverty Center at UNC. He supervises the agency and its employees. That fact only emphasizes that he is a state employee, and thus is subject to state law — as are all employees of the UNC system.

“It is also lamentable that the professors who signed the letter assume that a scurrilous column Nichol recently wrote prompted our interest in his activities. The truth is that the Civitas Institute has been trying to find out how taxpayer funds have been spent by UNC, specifically at the Poverty Center, since late 2011.

“The Center stonewalled us on previous attempts, and only after a struggle did it open some – but not all — of the records we requested. It should not be a surprise that we are resuming our efforts.

“This is not the first stonewalling furor that Nichol has prompted. The current case only deepens our suspicion that he doesn’t want to let the public know what is being done with the public’s money on the public’s time. What does he have to hide?

“The letter-signers accuse us of intimidating them. It instead looks as if they are trying to intimidate us. If 300 academics signed, they outnumber the Civitas staff more than 20 to 1. Many of them must be tenured. They can’t be afraid of Civitas; what are they afraid of?

“If anything, this looks like one more piece of political theater from the ‘Blueprint NC’ Left. Scholars for North Carolina’s Future, the group that issued this letter, was known only a few months ago as Scholars for a Progressive North Carolina. It is an affiliate of the North Carolina Justice Center, a group that earlier this year was front and center in a controversy over a Blueprint NC memo describing plans to ‘eviscerate’ conservatives across the state. Among the signatories of this letter are long-time political activists. One professor who signed founded a group called ‘Duke Radical Action Group,’ for example.

“Civitas is simply availing itself of a right available to any citizen or organization in North Carolina at any time for any reason. Letting Gene Nichol stonewall the people of North Carolina would set a precedent that would undermine the transparency on which democracy depends.”

The Civitas Institute is a policy institute based in Raleigh, N.C. More information is available at www.nccivitas.org, or contact Jim Tynen at (919) 834-2099 or james.tynen@nccivitas.org

 
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Academics’ call for secrecy would undermine democracy in North Carolina
Civitas Institute has been trying to find out how taxpayer funds have been spent at the Poverty Center since late 2011.
 
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