State employee records should be public information

Two Libertarian candidates for General Assembly unequivocally believe that the records, salary and employment history of state employees should be public information. They were responding to the same questions asked of Democratic and Republican elected officials by the News & Observer for a series of articles highlighting Sunshine Week.

Sunshine Week is a national initiative, led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

“I worked under such an assumption when I was a state employee from 1997 to 1999,” said Stephanie Watson, Libertarian candidate for N.C. House District 16. “Personnel records for state employees should be available for review at the request of any citizen of North Carolina,” she said.

“After all, the citizens employ them through the agency of government. Each state employee should accept that he or she is subject to public inquiries about his performance in that job,” she said.

Richard Evey, Libertarian candidate for N.C. Senate District 44 agreed, saying that it was part of the concept of transparency in government. “This is a part of the job,” he said.

Watson said that state employees should accept the fact that they are subject to public inquiries about job performance. Applications, recommendations and hiring reports should also be public.

“Like personnel records, all applications, recommendations, and hiring reports for state employees should be available for review at the request of any citizen of North Carolina,” she said.

Watson and Evey agreed, however, that personal data which could leave the individual vulnerable to identity theft should not be available to the public except by subpoena.

While the libertarians gave a straight yes or no answer to all three questions, the major party politicians were a bit more nuanced in their responses.

The first question asked if the personal records of a state employee convicted of a crime or disciplined for misconduct should be made public. Senate leader Marc Basnight, a Democrat, said, “”I don’t know.” House Speaker Joe Hackney, a Democrat, said, “It’s a line-drawing exercise, and whether the line is drawn in exactly the right place, I don’t know the answer to that.”

House Minority Leader Paul Stam, a Republican, said the release of complete personnel records “must be only under specific circumstances.” Only Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said yes.

The second question asked if employee applications, hiring panel reports, job candidate recommendations and other information that helps explain why someone won a public job should be made public information.

Basnight said, “”As it pertains to the search for (UNC) chancellors, absolutely not.” Hackney said he was opposed to it and Stam also said no. Only Berger agreed such records should be public.

Finally, when asked if a worker’s state employment history, including job changes, disciplinary action or commendations, and salary adjustments be made public, Basnight responded with a question. “The law today is the current salary, but not what they made previously,” he asked. “I do not understand why that would not be public.”

Hackney said he wasn’t prepared to argue it either way, adding, “I understand it’s been that way since 1975.”

Berger said this information should be made public, provided the distinction between employment and personal information in the current law be maintained. Stam said, “No. Public employees deserve the same measure of privacy as employees in the private sector.”