Excerpt From: News & Record. Written By: Mark Binker and Kelly Hinchcliffe.
As Gov. Roy Cooper’s newly installed appointees raced to get a grip on state government this January, the acting head of North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles told his boss that the agency was “a wreck.”
Around the same time, a lawyer involved in litigation over who should have the authority to hire and fire employees at the Department of Public Instruction gave the new attorney general a heads up that the school superintendent was going to intervene in the case. And North Carolina’s long-time state auditor urgently sought a meeting with the new governor to explain a damning assessment of state and county social service agencies.
During two weeks in January, those quick messages, along with notes of congratulations and requests for meetings, flowed via text messages to and from the mobile phones of North Carolina’s top elected and appointed officials.
Those short messages, along with the occasional attached image or document, are public records and help provide a picture of what it takes to run a state home to 10 million people. But following inquiries from a coalition of news organizations including The Associated Press, it’s clear that getting access to those public records depends largely on the goodwill of those department heads, and the requests took many officials by surprise.
Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan, for example, initially responded to a public records request for two weeks of his text messages by saying he didn’t have any for the time period involved. He revised that assessment only after officials in Cooper’s communications office asked others to search their phones. Several were identified, including photos of the secretary posing with former Gov. Jim Hunt and others after taking the oath of office.