I had an interesting public records experience today, and it all started with a press release I received this morning from the Town of Hillsborough. In it, the town announced that the police chief is stepping down so he can focus on his campaign to become sheriff of Orange County.
Ok, simple enough. I can write that up and post a story on WRAL.com (where I work as a Web news editor).
Then I noticed some quotes from the police chief which came from his resignation letter, according to the press release. I thought it would be good to get a copy of the full letter so I could add that to the story. I sent an e-mail to the town’s public information officer and asked her to e-mail me a copy.
About 10 minutes later, she responded with this:
“Unfortunately the town is not able to release the letter due to N.C. GS 160A-168, Privacy of Employee Personnel Records. You might contact Chief Birkhead, however, to ask for a copy.”
Wait a minute, I thought. Public officials’ resignation letters are public record, right? I was annoyed with myself that I didn’t know the answer, so I decided to call one of our attorneys who we can consult with about these types of things.
The attorney said she was pretty sure that resignation letters aren’t public record, but she wanted to double check. A minute later, she came back with the answer. Sure enough, resignation letters are not public record since they are part of the private personnel record.
So, this public records geek has learned something new. Frankly, it’s something I should have known already, but I certainly won’t forget it now. In the meantime, I e-mailed the police chief to ask if he would send me a copy of his letter. He doesn’t have to, but I thought I’d ask anyway 🙂