Delayed records from NC Commerce Department are part of a pattern

Gov. Pat McCrory
Gov. Pat McCrory

Electrolux announced it was planning to double the size of its Charlotte headquarters in late December 2013. In early February, an Observer reporter requested all public records related to the deal from the N.C. Department of Commerce, a standard practice when a major incentives deal is announced.

After more than 19 months and numerous follow-up requests, the Commerce Department provided the documents Monday. There was no explanation for the lengthy delay for the documents, which are public under state law.

Commerce Department spokeswoman Kim Genardo didn’t respond to questions about the delay.

In July, the Observer and several other news organizations filed a lawsuit against the McCrory administration, alleging that the administration has shown “patterns and practices of delay, obfuscation, non-responsiveness, foot-dragging and stonewalling.”

The suit cited other examples, such as when Indy Week, a publication based in Durham, requested copies of Gov. Pat McCrory’s travel records on Nov. 8, 2013. The governor’s office didn’t produce any until 16 months later.

In a statement after the suit was filed, the McCrory administration said it has been “champion of transparency and fair and legitimate news gathering.” But the administration said news and political organizations are misusing the state’s open records laws with overly broad requests.

The administration said more than 22,000 records requests have overwhelmed its employees. There isn’t sufficient state money to meet all the requests without diverting funds from other needs, the administration said.

“It isn’t acceptable to take 19 months to release documents that shed light on the use of public money,” said Observer Editor Rick Thames. “This is why we are challenging the state’s practices.”

Under public records law, state agencies are required to provide copies of requested records “as promptly as possible.” Unlike many other states, there’s no deadline for a response.

The news organizations’ suit is pending. Amanda Martin, a Raleigh-based lawyer representing the Observer and other news outlets, said the McCrory administration hasn’t filed its response to the suit. Both sides agreed to give a 30-day extension for the administration’s answer.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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