Sunshine Week is a national effort to encourage transparency in all levels of government. With that in mind, Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich says it’s time to shine some light on local government emails.
“We’re living in a world where we need information quickly and we can have that information quickly,” says Rich. “Why not make it available?”
Under the North Carolina Public Records Law, emails sent to or received by government officials are considered public records. Anyone can make an information request to get a copy of those documents.
The towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have gone one step further, putting government emails online in archives immediately accessible to anyone with a computer.
Now, Rich and other commissioners are pushing for Orange County to do the same.
“There’s an overall feeling, ‘let’s share this information, let’s have these emails available,’” says Rich. “And let’s face it, there’s not a large percentage of people who are going to spend their days scouring through county commissioner emails, but if there is one specific topic that you’re interested in and you want to see if that discussion has already taken place, or if there are any replies to that discussion, it’s a good first place to go.”
Rich says the main obstacle right now is money.
“I think it’s just a matter of how to make it happen financially. I don’t think there’s any push back about not sharing information; I think it’s just changing up the systems to allow that to happen. That has to come in front of the board.”
Whatever system is put in place to catalog the emails will need to filter out confidential discussions involving personnel matters, legal issues and property purchases.
There’s no set standard for how local governments should share emails online. Chapel Hill and Carrboro each take a slightly different approach.
Chapel Hill’s archive includes letters from staff, citizens and a flood of spam. The Mayor’s emails are released in batches each quarter. Carrboro’s emails trickle in at the rate of one or two a day, mostly in the form of comments between board members and staff.
It’s not clear what form an Orange County email archive could take, but Rich says it should be as inclusive as possible.
“In general, I would say 90 percent of our emails should be out there and people should be able to see what our conversations are.”
Rich says it’s not yet clear if funding for a public email archive will be up for discussion in next year’s budget negotiations.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/sunshine-week-when-will-we-see-orange-countys-emails/
A couple months ago, I asked: “What is Orange County’s biggest hidden issue?” What is the biggest issue in Orange County that ISN’T being talked about, in any way, in any news outlet?
There are a lot, obviously. Even in a county as per-capita prosperous as this one, there’s bound to be room for improvement in numerous areas—and as for “not being talked about,” well, I’ve already used this space to drone on about the limited resources available to modern-day media. Enough with that.
But of all the un-discussed issues in Orange County, what’s the biggest? What’s the most pressing?
Many of you responded.
Is it the old-boy network? Twitter user @W0CG0 wrote: “Quite simply, (it’s) the attempt by older residents to limit activities and access of those under the age of 50.”
Is it overpriced housing? “The subtle effect of the anti-development, anti-growth zealots is to keep housing prices inflated due to lack of supply. A good example is the Estes Road plan. People want less development to keep up home prices. The road needs to be widened.”
Or—related—is it the lack of workforce housing? “We can build a homeless shelter, but god forbid we build apartments or town homes for police, teachers & firefighters.”
(That’s all @W0CG0, by the way.)
Mark Marcoplos suggested home rule, or rather the lack thereof — the extent to which state law restrains local governments from doing much of anything without permission from the General Assembly. “I consider this to be the biggest obstacle to progressive policy that we face,” he wrote. This has come up recently in a variety of issues — most notably Chapel Hill’s attempt to ban cell phone use while driving or to update its towing ordinance — but Marcoplos said it’s more wide-ranging than you think. “It’s an unnecessary shackling of local governance.”
And another responder (who chose to remain anonymous) pointed to “administrative cover-ups (and) misappropriations in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools,” as well as an unequal distribution of resources from one school to another — both of which, the responder says, contribute to “poor working conditions (and) teacher dissatisfaction.”
But easily the most common responses revolved around the prevalence of poverty in Orange County — notwithstanding our status as North Carolina’s wealthiest.
“Poverty and children going hungry,” wrote Rachel Hawkins. “No excuse for it.”
Vicki Vars Boyer agreed: “Too many of our kids are on free/reduced lunch” — another stat that’s unequally distributed from school to school, incidentally — “and in need of backpacks of food to take home so they can get through the weekend.”
And it’s not just backpacks. “At Chapel Hill High this week they are running a granola bar drive,” wrote Kathy Kaufman (in November). “(T)he school social worker needs a ready supply to give to kids who don’t have lunch money and may not have had breakfast either. There are other ways hungry kids are quietly helped in the school as well.”
Ricky Spero took the issue beyond the schools. “With the recent drop in SNAP benefits, I’m curious to learn where we have food security issues in our community,” he wrote. “As a national issue, it’s a bit overwhelming to think about how our family could help, but as a local issue, it’s an area where we could pitch in.”
And George Cianciolo added that solving the problem would require more than just dealing with immediate food security issues. “As in many other areas of the country, the disparity in income levels continues to widen here with no easy solutions in sight,” he said, so “(m)ore jobs paying living wages are desperately needed.”
Poverty is something we’ve discussed on WCHL and on Chapelboro.com, but there are many facets of the issue that have gone unexamined — and even as it gets reported, that old notion still lingers that poverty’s not really an issue here.
So as promised, I’ll be writing more about poverty in the months to come. Thanks to everyone for their contributions.http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/orange-countys-biggest-hidden-issue-part-ii/
CHAPEL HILL – Orange County resident Mark Marcoplos says he will not seek to represent you in the North Carolina House of Representatives District 50 seat despite a campaign by locals to get him to seek the post.
*We previously reported that Marcoplos was a Chapel Hill resident, but he is actually a resident of Bingham Township west of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
“I thought about it and realized that really my heart was with the local community in Orange County and the issues that we face here,” Marcoplos says.
Marcoplos says he will run for the next open seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners. He made that announcement official on Facebook just before speaking with Ron Stutts on the WCHL Morning News Thursday.
***Listen to the Interview***
***Marcoplos’ Comment on Facebook- Click to Enlarge***
He says the thought of working in Raleigh wasn’t always out of the question.
“I started to get intrigued with the idea of serving in Raleigh and sort of doing battle over there, because that place over there is just not like they told us in civics class,” Marcoplos says.
He says he wants so see someone go to Raleigh and work as a true activist for the people of Orange and Durham counties.
Marcoplos says the push to get him in the House—affectionately known as the ‘Draft Marcoplos’ campaign—was started by a few local officials, including Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton and Orange County Commissioner Mark Dorosin, among others.
He says he is the right fit for Board of Commissioners for his time as a community activist.
“…defending my community against landfill (sites), airport (sites),” Marcoplos says.
He says his time serving on municipal board makes him a strong candidate as well.
“…the economic development commission, the Orange County Planning Board, and I’ve spent over eight years on the OWASA board and two years as the chair, so I know what it’s like to craft policy with colleagues,” Marcoplos says. “I know what it’s like to actively lobby for other government bodies to consider.”
An opening on the Board is a possibility before its regular elections in 2014. Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier announced she is seeking the House 50 seat.
However, four other Orange County residents have announced they have applied for the seat: Laurin Easthom, Tommy McNeill, Graig Meyer, and Drew Nelson. A four-member committee will nominate the person to fill the House 50 seat on October 24.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/ch-resident-marcoplos-to-seek-bocc-not-house-50/
ORANGE COUNTY- County commissioners will hash out the final details on next year’s budget when the board meets Thursday.
The budget won’t be formally adopted until next week, but tonight commissioners will settle on a countywide property tax rate for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 and decide the funding levels for the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools districts.
The board will also sign off on a five-year capital spending plan and set the tax rates for the county’s 12 fire districts.
Tuesday’s budget work session ran long, so tonight’s meeting starts an hour earlier than usual to allow the board to finish departmental budget reviews.
The meeting begins at 6:00 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.