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I have stumbled on an interesting story taking place in Lincoln County, North Carolina and while it is interesting I would hope most readers would be aware that it’s not likely an isolated case. The issue it seems is a Sheriff’s Office that disagrees with Free Speech, Freedom of the Press or apparently following the intent of the law but rather their interpretation of “the letter of the law.”

The first I heard about this was in reference to a article in the Charlotte Observer concerning Lincoln County Sheriff Carpenter plans to skirt the new public records law Governor Purdue signed by not providing dismissed employees with anything written down about their dismissal but to inform them verbally. The law that was passed opened up public officials records and soon after it was passed papers like the Charlotte Observer made multiple request to law enforcement agencies such as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and apparently of the Lincoln County Sheriff for various personnel files. In what can only be viewed as the powerful protecting their own we have the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, Charlotte’s city attorneys as well as N.C. School Boards Association to name a few all coming out condemning the new law and saying they should not be required to provide such information. Some of those same groups sought an opinion by the N.C. State Attorney General’s Office on the reach of the new law and specifically if it was retroactive and apparently were not happy with the answer they received which was that yes the law was retroactive and yes the law required the written dismissal letters for terminated employees for all state and local agencies.

One would think that makes it pretty clear however per the Charlotte Observer, Sheriff David Carpenter of Lincoln County has no plans to issue any written dismissal letters. The exact quote from the Observer is below as it certainly appears to say the Sheriff doesn’t agree with the State Attorney General’s interpretation of the law and clearly says the Sheriff goes on to say he does not believe the public should have any access to personnel records.

Carpenter, who took office last week, promised to comply with the records law, but said "we’re not going to generate" new documents to satisfy requests by the public.

Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/12/13/1907291/lincoln-county-sheriff-finds-end.html#storylink=misearch#ixzz1RdNOwIdQ

Now this on it’s surface this might not seem so bad but then we have State Senator Pete Brunstetter, a Winston-Salem Republican, submitting a new bill which would reverse the law Perdue signed just last year. Senator Brunstetter’s bill would deny the release of dismissal letters prior to the laws enactment as well as remove any requirement that dismissal letters be written for government employees, thoroughly castrating the open public records law Gov. Purdue signed sending North Carolina back to the time it was considered one of the most closed access Governments.

If the disciplinary action under subdivision (11) of this subsection was a dismissal, a copy of the written notice notice, if created, of the final decision of the head of the department setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal. This subdivision does not require the creation of a notice of dismissal if the creation of the notice is not otherwise required by law.

SENATE BILL 554, § 126‑23, (11a)

Aside from that diversion into the powerful wanting to make sure the powerful stay protected let’s get back to Lincoln County for some more of what appears to be abuse of power. It appears there is or was a criminal case going on between the Sheriff’s spokesman and a local Blogger/News Reporter. I would point you to the post at the News & Observer however they seem to have pulled the post, interesting. So I would point you to the post at [email protected] but hmmm, it’s been pulled as well so let’s try the link to the story at The Carolina Scoop but well guess what, it’s missing as well not to mention Google’s cache has no direct hits to the story. It’s almost like somebody has sent DMCA compliant letters to any source of the story so let me see if I can find some more information, ah here we go, “Sheriff’s spokesman charges journalist with harassment.”

Ken Fortenberry, editor and publisher of the Denver-based weekly newspaper [email protected], has threatened to sue TheCarolinaScoop, a Lincolnton Web site, for libel.

Scoop publisher and editor Jon Mayhew, who has also been the sheriff’s publication information officer since June, responded Friday by issuing a criminal summons against Fortenberry for alleged harassment.

The key here is Jon Mayhew acts as the spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department yet runs a website which competes for readers and one would assume advertising dollars with sites such as the [email protected] . Unfortunately other than this single news source it is near impossible to find anything else about what is going on in Lincoln County especially concerning Ken Fortenberry, Jon Mayhew and Sheriff Carpenter. There’s a good number of stories about the prior sheriff’s problems but try to find anything about the above story and it’s a brick wall.

This is why open records and a free press are so important yet North Carolina seems determined to stay an old boys club with the elite protecting the elites and law enforcement doing whatever they want to do, legal or not. Here’s hopping this post doesn’t spark some search warrant…

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