Local News

N.C. Keeps Tight Lid On Access To Worker Information

Posted March 18, 2005 5:27 a.m. EST

— States like Florida and Ohio give almost unrestricted access to government personnel files. North Carolina keeps a much tighter leash on worker information, which prompts the debate: If taxpayers pay your salary, do they deserve to know everything in your work file?

North Carolina's largest employer is state government. Sunshine laws give taxpayers limited access to personnel files that may contain information about your position, current salary or length of employment. For the most part, disciplinary and performance records are off-limits.

"The ability to hold government accountable is threatened by not having access to information," said John Bussian, attorney for the North Carolina Press Association.

Bussian litigates First Amendment cases across the country. Despite some strides, he ranks North Carolina low on the list when it comes to "open" government.

"So much of government is open and it should be, but I think everybody deserves some privacy," said Rep. Linda Coleman, D-Wake.

With nearly three decades as a state employee, Coleman this week filed two bills she believes will better protect workers. One would keep benefits like health insurance and retirement choices private. The other would allow a department head to withhold any information for health, safety or security.

Bussian believes that is a license to shut out the public.

"If it were enacted, it would send us spiraling into the Dark Ages," he said.

"I don't think that was ever the intent of this statute and if it were, I would not even be signing onto that bill," Coleman said.

Coleman admits there needs to be clarification with the proposed legislation.