HICKORY, N.C. – Catching up with technology means more than slimmer smartphones, bigger TVs and new alternative energy.
For Andy Wells and Pat Hensley, candidates for the North Carolina State Senate's 42nd District, technology has made the open records laws of North Carolina almost obsolete. The ubiquitous nature of cellphone cameras, high-speed Internet and other technology necessitates a review of the state's open records laws, Wells and Hensley said.
“Things have happened in our society that have completely changed information,” Wells said. “You have more computing power in that little phone than we had in the computer room running the whole furniture factory with a couple hundred people (in the 1980s).”
Hensley, Catawba County Schools’ assistant superintendent of human resources for nine years, said social media has upended traditional rules for human resource managers.
“Social media and HR are like oil and vinegar,” Hensley said. “If there’s something disruptive on a teacher’s social media, I have laws that say I can have them take it down. But at the same time you’re wondering about their First Amendment rights. We haven’t had a chance to come down one way or the other on where that balance is.”
Wells articulated his belief in smaller government as he spoke about multiple issues. For transparency, North Carolina should have “broad principles” because technology and the economy have so outpaced bureaucracy that the state can’t have an answer for every specific situation, he said.
“We should be able to say ‘the public has a right to know ‘X’ and have it cover whether it’s a body camera on a police officer or other information,” Wells said. “We’ve got to talk and come up with some broad principles.”
Wells said one obstacle is that information the public should have access to can be squirreled away through exemptions that cause the public never to see the information.
“At some point, and in a timely manner, public records are paid for with taxpayer funds, are public, and should be made public,” Wells said. “There’s some things we could do. It’s something I’m passionate about.”
However Hensley said she preferred less ambiguity in laws to help human resource managers and public officials. Hensley said clarity is key for any update to open records laws.
“I have a keen preference for all of us knowing what the rules are,” Hensley said. “We get the rules established, we all know them, we all follow them, and that’s it.”