Students to present findings on Sunshine Law response in NC

April 25, 2010 | Leave a Comment

BUIES CREEK, N.C.-County officials in only 25 of North Carolina's 100 counties fully responded to requests for public documents, according to the results of a research project conducted by Communication Studies students at Campbell University. Students will present their findings on Tuesday May 4 at 8:00 am in the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business boardroom. Three panelists will then respond to the presentation: Joseph Coletti, policy analyst, research division for the John Locke Foundation; Hugh Stevens, President of the Sunshine Center; and Mike Arnholt, Executive Editor, The Fayetteville Observer. The event is open to the public.

The students are part of Prof. Ed Johnson's research methods course this semester. Johnson worked with colleague Dan Maynard, CU research librarian. Their 10 students sent letters requesting four public documents related to state funded school construction in each county. The requests were sent to the superintendent of schools, chair of the school board, county manager and chair of county commissioners for each of North Carolina's 100 counties. The students asked to receive responses within two weeks. No response at all was received from any official in seven of the state's 100 counties.

"Our goal was to explore the responsiveness of our county officials to provide public information," said Johnson, a communication studies professor who earned a doctorate in research at University of Alabama. "Students conducted primary research and learned first-hand about the need for a free flow of information for democracy to work well."

Each letter requested four items related to specific school construction projects. These documents are 1) the application to the state for funds, 2) the state board's certification of review, 3) a listing of the checks written against the disbursement account for this project, and 4) the final report of the project.

Johnson's students said that the experience helped them appreciate the difficulty of getting information from some public officials.

"Not only does the public have the right to ask questions, but they need to ask questions in order to hold the county officials accountable," said junior Christy Connolly, Waldorf, Md., adding access to public records helps citizens know the questions to ask.

Junior Hannah Zurn, Morrison, Ill., agreed. "This project has taught me how important it is to hold our elected officials accountable to upholding the responsibilities that they have taken on," she said.