The Sylva Herald is a small publication with limited resources. We intend to do what’s necessary, however, to ensure local governments and institutions abide by state transparency laws.
As a last resort, that can mean getting a lawyer to fight with us for the public’s right to know.
This week, we asked Sylva attorney Kim Carpenter to help us secure documents from Western Carolina University. As we were going to press on Wednesday, she was making one last attempt to keep this out of the courts.
Institutions and local governments are made up of people. Humans make mistakes ... hey, we make mistakes, too. But, once a mistake is pointed out, it should be immediately corrected, whether it’s us or anyone else.
Beginning in January, Herald reporter Dave Russell started asking Western Carolina University officials to turn loose a report about the Cullowhee Dam.
Frankly, because we haven’t seen it, we have no idea if the report is newsworthy. But, as a matter of due diligence, the Herald wants to make those determinations for itself, acting in the public’s interest.
We believe the public has a right to be involved in a public agency or institution’s decision making, not simply be told what they intend to do.
WCU denied our request. So has the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority, which has the document, too. Both maintain it’s not a public record, because the report was paid for by nonprofit American Rivers.
With the help of an N.C. Press Association lawyer, we provided WCU and TWSA case law to prove the document must be released in accordance with the state’s Public Records Law (G.S. 132).
Instead of hitting the “send” button and emailing us the report, WCU said it would review our request and give us an answer on March 4.
That’s not acceptable.
The N.C. Public Records law says public documents must be provided “as promptly as possible.” WCU says it shouldn’t have to drop everything in response to the Herald’s request.
Um, we think that you do.
What’s the problem here? It’s a public document, so release it now.
Think about this, WCU: It’s not your dam. It’s not even your university. It’s certainly not your document.
These things belong to the public.
If WCU pursues this course, either out of obstinance or arrogance, it will be spending taxpayer money to fight the Herald.
In the end, we will get that document. Maybe today. Maybe after going to court.
That’s up to WCU. We’ll let you know what happens.
Quintin Ellison is general manager of The Sylva Herald.