The NCLBC shall exercise unified political power for the betterment of people of color and consequently, all North Carolinians.

Sunshine Week highlights government transparency

March 11th, 2018

— As basic foundations of a functioning democracy, public records and open meetings give citizens the power to peer into the inner workings of government and more effectively hold elected leaders accountable.

In North Carolina, those tenets are enshrined in the law, and their immense value to journalists, transparency advocates and everyday voters take center stage during Sunshine Week March 11-17, an annual, nationwide celebration of open government.

Sunshine Center, Sunshine Day
Sunshine Week coverage

In ways both large and small, public records and open meetings form the foundation of much of our reporting at WRAL News, whether on the daily beat or during deep-dive investigations.

Court records, for example, allow us to explain criminal charges and learn more about the evidence both the defense and prosecution offer up to judges and juries. WRAL’s 5 On Your Side team regularly tracks restaurant inspection ratings and consumer complaint reports, both of which are created when government officials interact with businesses or their customers.

And throughout the last year, reporters at WRAL News have used records to reveal and explain how policies created and implemented by local, state and federal officials impact North Carolina residents – for good or for ill.

Here’s a look at the seven of the biggest stories from the last year of public records reporting:

Old Court House, Durham North Carolina August 18, 2017

1: The day Durham ‘stood up’

Months after rumors of a KKK rally and concerns about a resulting clash with counterprotesters shut down the Bull City, emails and text messages recreated a timeline of confusion and concern among public officials. And questions still remain about the source of the rumor.

Natural gas pipeline map

2: How ‘North Carolina’ got erased from Atlantic Coast Pipeline fund

Documents reveal how distrust between the governor’s office and the General Assembly sparked a change in who would be in charge of a multimillion-dollar mitigation fund connected with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Cape Fear River

3. Tracking the route of GenX in the Cape Fear River

Since the discovery of the unregulated chemical compound GenX in the Cape Fear River, state environmental and health officials have been scrambling to respond to a form of industrial contamination with an unclear impact on human health.

Student testing / SAT test / ACT test / EOG test generic

4. 2016-17 school performance results: What grade did your school receive?

When North Carolina public schools released their annual school performance grades and graduation rates, a WRAL News app allowed parents to see how their schools measured up.

Toyota and Mazda to build $1.6 billion factory in US

5. NC’s $1.6B incentive offer to Toyota-Mazda filled with perks

Had Toyota and Mazda not passed up North Carolina for the site of their new car plant, the auto manufacturer would have nabbed a package of incentives worth $1.6 billion in cash grants, tax breaks and job training programs, documents released by the state Department of Commerce showed.

Classroom, students seated, kindergarten

6. More than 30 percent of NC public school teachers missed 10 days in 2014

Federal data show 34 percent of North Carolina’s 96,000 full-time public school teachers missed at least two weeks of classes in a single academic year.

Amazon's HQ in Seattle

7. In NC, bidding process for Amazon HQ veiled in secrecy

In North Carolina’s quest for Amazon’s second headquarters, state and local officials continue to choose secrecy over public disclosure. With millions in taxpayer dollars on the line, that’s worrying to open government advocates.

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