Carteret County Commissioners have unfairly and disingenuously made N.C. Representative Pat McElraft part of their efforts to take total control of the county’s communications to taxpayers and residents by claiming that she is complicit in the county’s participation in H.B. 51.
Last week the commissioners asked N.C. Representative Howard Penny, (R), Harnett County, to add Carteret County to a “local bill” he sponsored that will allow the county to rely solely on its website for the publication of all public notices. Current legislation requires counties, municipalities, and other government departments to publish public notices in newspapers that meet certain state mandated requirements to include periodicals of general paid circulation.
Using a subtle structure in the state’s legislative bill process, several Republican freshmen in the N.C. House of Representatives created two local bills, H.B. 35 and H.B. 51. Under legislative rules local bills may not include more than 14 counties and if the aggregate total of local bills seeking the same purpose is less than 49, then the local bills do not have to be signed by the governor which of course means they won’t face a possible veto.
Historically “local bills” have required approval of the legislative delegation, both House and Senate, of the counties named in the bill in order to get final approval by the General Assembly.
That is not the case with H.B. 51 which includes, Beaufort, Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Craven, Gates, Harnett, Hertford, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell, Washington counties and now Carteret County.
Rep. McElraft, serving her final term representing N.C. House District 13, Carteret and Jones counties, a district she has served successfully for the past 12 years, has not signed on the bill and in fact has told Carteret County commissioners she doesn’t support the bill.
When asked about this legislation she stated that she was resisting pressure from the county commissioners to add the county to H.B. 51. “Here’s my argument. You are asking seniors who are used to getting all their public information in one online visit to the newspaper to go to each town website and county website daily to make sure they don’t miss something significant. This is not public friendly,” Rep. McElraft explained in a text message.
County manager, Tommy Burns, who previously worked in the Harnett County government, refuted Rep. McElraft’s statement. He told the News-Times (story appears on page 1A) that moving public notices to a county controlled website has been a goal of Mrs. McElraft’s for years. And because she would not stop Rep. Penny from adding the county to the bill this constituted support.
Rep. McElraft has consistently opposed moving public notices to government controlled websites and even officially expressed her opposition in writing this time as well.
It is obvious that the county is determined to take total control of its communications and messaging to the public that they will do anything, including working around the county’s legislative representative to get this done. The topic has never been presented in a public meeting for discussion or a vote. Its sole disclosure, based on review of meeting minutes, was a letter sent to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners noting “the right to meet legal requirements of public notices by posting these notices on the County’s website” is one of the county’s goals for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
To construe Rep. McElraft’s decision to not stop Rep. Penny, as tacit support for the bill, is unfair and at the very least disingenuous. She does not support the bill. She has opposed earlier attempts to give county governments total control over their public notice responsibilities and did so again this year.
Not only have the county commissioners tried to force Rep. McElraft into a corner, they’ve tried to embarrass her for caring first about her primary constituents- the residents, young and old, and the taxpayers, both full and part-time, who elected her to assure that government does not run roughshod over them.
Throwing Mrs. McElraft “under the bus” by claiming she has supported the county’s efforts because she didn’t force her will on another legislator, who discourteously ignored her opposition, shows bad form on the part of the county commissioners.
This proves that the county will do anything necessary, including bringing into question a legislator’s integrity, to take total control of providing and delivering the information and notices that taxpayers and residents have a right to know. We are already seeing the results of this in the private sector as we watch the digital behemoths, Google, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon determine what we read on the internet and when. Our county commissioners are now taking a page from their playbook to do the same thing at the local level.