Updated and corrected: Open Meeting Laws and all of that Beaufort County confusion   | Eastern North Carolina Now


By:  Hood Richardson

The majority of the Beaufort County Commissioners, after having been sued over their alleged behavior, still do not understand the Open Meetings Law. A lot of their angst comes from them believing I am the person who started the lawsuit against them for illegal meetings several years ago.  I did not think the lawsuit was timely and advised those who initiated the suit to wait a few more months and they would have a sure-fire win.  The suit was settled before trial, but it infuriated those who had been accused of not being within the law.  Their blind emotion does not give one the feeling of their innocence.

The lawsuit has tainted the judgment of the accused commissioners, manager and attorney, to the point that they are harming the County by refusing to follow the law.  Sort of like, their solution to the closed session thing is; “We ain’t never going to have another closed session”.  However, we have had a few closed sessions involving lawsuits.  There are issues and things that need to be discussed in closed session in front of the entire board.

The issue of illegal closed sessions came boiling back to life when I requested a closed session for the March Commissioners’ meeting so the drug enforcement deputies in the sheriff’s department could present some sensitive and confidential information to the Board of County Commissioners.  I saw a lot of this information presented at a Board of Health meeting.  If this information were made public, it would give a lot of criminal drug users and dealers information that they would find useful.  This information would be harmful to children.

After I made my agenda request, the County Manager sent me an email and said the County Attorney had proclaimed there could be no closed meeting because the Open Meeting Statute did not provide for a closed session with the sheriff to discuss drugs. I requested the County Attorney’s proclamation in writing.  I received it in a very short time.

This is Attorney David Francisco’s message to me; “Hood, Your request for a special closed session on the March 6 agenda for further information on drugs was researched by me and found not to be an exception under the Closed Sessions statute, G. S. 141-318.11.  As you know there are 10 exceptions (permitted purposes) listed.  This is not one of them.”

I did my own research and came to a radically different conclusion.  The Legislature never intended to deny the orderly and legitimate operation of governments and agencies.  The purpose of the Statute cited by Attorney Francisco is to ensure that governments go into closed session only when the public interest could be damaged if information were made public.

I am not a lawyer. Lawyers do not own the law.  The law belongs to all of us.

General Statute 143-318.11 (1) clearly states ……” A public body may hold a closed session and exclude the public only when a closed session is required: (1) To prevent the disclosure of information that is PRIVLEGED (sic) or CONFIDENTIAL (sic) pursuant to the laws of the State or of the United States, or not considered a public record within the meaning of Chapter 132 of the General Statutes.”  This general statute goes on to say: “(7)  To plan, conduct or hear reports concerning investigations of alleged criminal misconduct”.

Drug investigations and procedures used in such investigations, by necessity, often require confidentiality.  It is absurd to think a discussion of such investigations and law enforcement methods and procedures cannot legally be held in closed sessions.

I then went to Chapter 132 of the General Statutes titled “Criminal Investigations; Intelligence information records; Innocence inquiry Commission records”. .G. S. 132-1.7 titled “Sensitive public security information”.  Section (a) “Public records as defined in G>S. 132-1, shall not include sensitive public security information, which means any of the following:  (4)  Specific security information or detailed plans, patterns, or practices to prevent or respond to criminal, gang or organized illegal activity”.  Clearly, such “specific security information or detailed plans, patters, or practices…” may be protected.  For example, it was reported that the local school board developed security procedures for our schools in closed sessions.

Chapter 132 sets out what can be considered sensitive public information and defines information that must be made available to the public.  Parts of this statute allow law enforcement to withhold certain information until investigations are complete.

Taking G. S. 143 and 132 together, it is clear that the legislative intent regarding closed sessions are in order when discussing confidential drug information, organized crime and narcotics information that if made available could bring harm to people and efforts to control drugs and crime in Beaufort County.

Attorney Francisco’s legal research is inadequate and incomplete.  One must keep in mind that Attorney Francisco serves the majority of the Board.  However, his service as a professional, when it comes o giving advice should be to the entire Board of County Commissioners and to every citizen in the County.

Five members of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners behavior lead to the conclusion that they are soft of drugs and possibly crime.  Their votes and behavior relating to criminal bonds, stronger laws on drugs and illegal immigration speaks for itself.  Commissioner Rebholz was not present at the March meeting.  He is included because of his past votes with the other four commissioners, the Gang of Four , who are Jerry Langley, Ed Booth, Frankie Waters, and Rebholz.

The arrogance, self-righteousness, and ignorance of four commissioners is clearly displayed in their vote to not allow discussion or presentation of the above information.  It seems the County Attorney is protecting the Democrats and RINOs and they in turn are protecting him.  This is at the root of our corrupt government.

Only the full Board of Commissioners can vote to go into closed session.  Neither the attorney, the manager nor the clerk can deny a closed session.  They can only give advice.  This is another example of the majority of the Board of County Commissioners putting the (unelected) staff in charge.

We are beginning the 2024 election cycle.  Republicans are holding a county convention this Spring to elect leadership.   The seed of corruption is germinated by the party leadership.  You, as a registered Republican can help make a change in government by attending your precinct meeting and county convention.  Leaders can be changed so  truly qualified candidates can be elected to public office.

The Republican precinct meetings and convention will be held at Southern Acres on NC 92 near White Post on Saturday March 25th beginning at 8:30 AM.  Be there at 8:30 AM, get yourself elected a precinct delegate to the County Convention which will begin shortly after the Precinct meetings.  Vote, at the convention for the changes that will bring honest government.  Democrats have the same opportunity to make changes in their leadership as Republicans.

This iron handed control and ham-fisted treatment of conservative Republicans is supporting the liberal Democrats, communists and socialists.

This event happens only every two years.  One half day to make major changes in our government is a small price.

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( March 13th, 2023 @ 6:54 am )
Thank you, Randy, for the correction. I apologize.
( March 12th, 2023 @ 7:58 pm )
I looked back on the meeting video and I voted with Hood and Stan. I think we all forgot Rebholtz was absent so vote was actually tied. We are so use to 5 3 vote totals. Might need to revisit this.

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