Transparency and the public’s right to know about disciplinary actions of state employees is finally getting a full hearing in the N.C. Senate in the coming week. All indications are it will move forward for consideration to the House of Representatives in spite of massive resistance from the state’s two largest unions.
Republican Senator Norman Sanderson, representing the 2nd senate district of Carteret, Craven and Pamlico counties, co-sponsor of the “Government Transparency Act of 2021,” has withstood withering opposition from the State Employees Association of N.C. (SEANC) and the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) as he has worked over the past two months to bring the bill to the senate floor for a vote. Senators Bill Rabon, (R), New Hanover County and Joyce Kraweic,
( R), Forsyth County are also co-sponsors but Sen. Sanderson has been the primary spokesman for the legislation.
The bill simply provides public scrutiny of disciplinary actions of state employees and does not, as the opponents contend, open up all employee records for public scrutiny.
Both SEANC and NCAE, while not officially recognized as unions since North Carolina is a right to work state, have been joined by the Teamsters and AFLCIO, nationally recognized unions, to fight this legislation. For two months, members of the legislature have weathered calls and constant bombardment of misinformation and intimidation by the unions to stop this legislation.
SEANC and NCAE, along with the other nationally recognized unions, have erroneously argued that SB 355 will open all of the personnel files of state employees to review which would result in gossip and misinformation, thereby harming the employees.
That argument is erroneous on two counts. First, only disciplinary actions related to professional job performance are open for public scrutiny which is the right of the employers, the public, to know. No other personnel files are open for public review under this legislation. Secondly, if there is disciplinary action, others will know it and will make assumptions, which enhances gossip. If the facts are known, then the gossip is obviously less credible and the potential for it diminishes.
Legislators have been provided a variety of examples of how the lack of public access, as well as access within state agencies, have resulted in “bad actors” being transferred from job to job or from region to region to avoid embarrassing situations only to have the “bad actor” finally exposed after doing harm, and in some cases irreparable harm.
A case in point was a special education teacher in the western region of the state who was moved from school to school to avoid embarrassment only to have the teacher finally charged with taking indecent liberties and molestation of several of his students. Another example involves a fired school superintendent who received $250,000 to leave without any explanation to the taxpayers.
Until this week the union tactics had apparently influenced senate Democrats who have expressed resistance to the legislation. But late last week one Democrat legislator informed Sen. Sanderson that he is supporting the bill, which may indicate that others in that senate caucus may see the need for greater transparency.
It is worth noting that Governor Cooper, who sponsored a similar bill “Discipline Disclosure Act” during his tenure as a state senator in 1977, has been silent on SB355. It is well known that he is very sensitive to the political clout of the unions but it is no reason for him or other Democrats to choose secrecy over public interest.
The unions’ efforts to hide professional performance evaluations and actions regarding the hiring, firing, promotion and demotion of public employees has persisted and is ramping up as the final vote approaches.
This week, the state senate will make a major determination as to who, or what group is in charge of our state operations: the unions that want to control access to vital information about the professional performance of state employees or the taxpayers who not only pay for the services but who also have to wonder, are they being properly and professionally served.
It is long past time that state operations are open to those who pay the bill- the taxpayers. It is time for transparency in our government.