Davidson slowly addressing public records requests
by Staff Writer
DAVIDSON – Almost three months after the Herald Weekly requested Town of Davidson emails on Visit Lake Norman and MI-Connection, the town has yet to produce them.
Officials for the town and Nucentric, the town’s information-technology provider, say they’ve dealt with only one such request in the past and the town’s current email system does not lend itself easily to searches.
Nucentric President Jon Allred said his staff has had to write queries to retrieve email, but the town’s current system remains inefficient.
Allred estimated his staff already has devoted 60 hours of work on the request by the Herald and one other individual.
Public Information Officer Megan Pillow Davis and Assistant Town Manager Dawn Blobaum said the staff also has to devise a system for reviewing the emails to avoid releasing information exempted by the N.C. Public Records Law, such as information involving personnel, police investigations and contract negotiations.
The town also has not honored a standing request the Herald made on April 10 to begin receiving all emails by top town officials related to town business not exempted under the public records law. The newspaper has asked for email sent or received by Mayor John Woods, the towns’ six commissioners, Town Manager Leamon Brice and all department heads. The Herald has since dropped its request for email sent or received by Police Chief Jeanne Miller because many of her email are likely to be exempt.
Because of the Herald’s standing request and the likelihood the town will get more requests in the future, town officials are studying new alternatives for storing and retrieving electronic public records, Davis and Blobaum said. “These experiences have made us very aware that we need to establish a process for more quickly dealing with large-scale public records requests going forward,” Davis wrote in an email.
In his 2011-12 budget, recently approved by the town board, Brice allotted $4,000 to buy an email archiving server and $1,000 to maintain the new system. Town officials are considering placing a computer station in town hall, which would allow any resident to search the new public email database.
The Herald made the same standing request for public email of Cornelius and Huntersville more than a year ago, and they have been providing those on a regular basis. Cornelius provides its emails on a monthly basis, with a 30-day delay. Huntersville provides emails every quarter, with a 30-day delay at the end of each quarter.
Both towns have responded more quickly to Herald requests for email related to specific topics, mostly recently those related to Visit Lake Norman.
The Herald originally asked for Davidson’s email in 2010, but in a meeting with Brice and a Herald reporter, Allred – Nucentric’s president – raised concerns about the cost to the town and fairness of requiring Brice’s time to review email. Town officials were wrestling with a budget crisis and the town’s need to cover the debt of MI-Connection, the broadband company Davidson owns with Mooresville. The Herald dropped its request at the time to avoid being caught up in the budget debate.
The Herald renewed its request on April 10.