It’s been almost a month since North Carolina Mental Hope requested minutes of board meetings from five Local Management Entities – Crossroads, Cumberland County, Johnson County, PBH and Southeastern Regional.
While the commitment of the state’s other 18 LMEs to facilitate the public’s right to know by posting board minutes online ranges from sketchy to comprehensive, these five LMEs are those that had no minutes whatsoever online. And the commitment to the public’s right to know exhibited in responses to the request has ranged from exemplary to virtually nonexistent in the case of Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare.
Within several days of the request, Johnson County Mental Health Center provided easy access to its minutes by simply posting them online. And while it’s hoped Southeastern Regional will follow suit, it did at least quickly provide a copy of the requested minutes on CD.
Minutes have yet to be received from Crossroads Behavioral Health, but not for lack of a good faith effort on the part of the agency’s Director, David Swann. Swann responded quickly and in great detail as to reproduction considerations and cost, an effort that would have been unnecessary with greater clarity on my part. The Crossroads board is considering whether to make its minutes available online at its meeting today.
Three weeks after my request, I heard from the Cumberland County Mental Health Center via Johnathan Charleston of the Charleston Group law firm, saying the minutes would be sent along with an invoice for “allowable reproduction costs.” Like most folks, a letter from an attorney gets my attention. And a phrase like “allowable reproduction costs” in a letter from an attorney really gets my attention. Considering this is the law firm that billed Cumberland almost $119,000 a couple of fiscal years back, what it considers “allowable” might not mesh with what I do.
At first, I balked at the unknowns and withdrew the request, but reconsidered after reviewing provisions of the public records law that limit reproduction expenses to “direct, chargeable costs related to the reproduction of a public record” and “does not include costs that would have been incurred by the public agency if a request to reproduce a public record had not been made” (unless extensive use of IT resources is needed). In short, there can be a charge for the CD to copy the minutes to and the postage to mail it, but not for the salary of the person to drag, drop and burn the files to disk. So the request for those minutes has been renewed, contingent on an estimate of costs or what is envisioned as chargeable items involved.
As for the minutes of PBH board of directors … the last communication from that agency was a July 27 email from their communications officer, Cyndy Brooks, telling me I would need to submit a “Public Records Request” in writing, which PBH would then review and respond.
As I noted in my response to Brooks that same day, however, the law does not require the added hoop that requests be in writing nor even that a request makes reference to being a public records request. Suffice it to say I’ve heard nothing more from PBH on the matter.
North Carolina Mental Hope