Mayoral candidate Eric Robert sent the Rhino Times the city’s response to his public records request, and it is revealing.
Robert has filed a lawsuit against fellow mayoral candidate Mayor Nancy Vaughan, City Manager Tai Jaiyeobo and the City of Greensboro for violating the state statute that establishes the public’s right to public records. And looking at the response Robert received from the city, it appears a lawsuit may have been Robert’s best option.
North Carolina General Statute 132-1.b states, “The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by this law.”
Public Information Request Tracking (PIRT) Administrator Kurt Brenneman states in response to Robert’s request for “email correspondence and documents” about the gun shows at the Greensboro Coliseum that the “Greensboro Information Technology Department searched the City’s email archive and found 306 responsive emails.”
While it is a fact that most business is conducted by email, the request was also for documents and if the response from Brenneman is accurate, there was no attempt made by the city to find public records that are not in the form of emails.
As noted previously in the Rhino Times, the PIRT system used by the City of Greensboro is designed to circumvent the North Carolina public records law and it appears in the case of Robert’s request it has worked.
In order to believe that the city followed the law and provided Robert with the public records he requested, you would have to believe that Greensboro Coliseum Director Matt Brown and Coliseum Public Relations Manager Andrew Brown frequently send blank emails back and forth. Also, Andrew Brown and Matt Brown frequently send emails in which the subject line states that there is an attachment but there is no attachment.
You would also have to believe that Matt Brown and Andrew Brown send drafts of emails to city councilmembers back and forth or, perhaps more accurately stated, send blank emails back and forth with the subject line stating for example, “Gun Show Purchase Summary for City Council,” but never get around to actually sending an email to the members of the City Council.
While it is certainly possible that Matt Brown and Andrew Brown send blank emails back and forth on a frequent basis, it seems highly unlikely.
According to Brenneman, of the 306 responsive emails, 47 were not included because they fell under the attorney-client privilege. But there is no mention of redacting the body of emails that were included.
The body of those emails that are blank are public documents and, according to the North Carolina Public Records law, “are the property of the people.”
According to state law, the people own those documents but, according to the public records policy of the City of Greensboro, the public can’t see them.