This is Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of open government and citizens’ rights to public information. At Carolina Public Press, public records are often the lifeblood of our investigative reports, so today we’re taking stock of key government documents that informed our reporting during the past year.
Some were readily available, while others took some struggle to acquire. Read them below, in chronological order, beginning in March 2013.
Haywood County’s missing evidence
Last year, we marked Sunshine Week by surveying WNC sheriffs departments on how they manage their evidence rooms. Some departments didn’t respond at all, some offered skeletal records, and others appeared to give full disclosures.
The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, we noted in a March 28 report, was among the most forthcoming, providing inspection reports done by a former State Bureau of Investigation agent who noted missing items and the potential for “serious problems with evidence accountability.”
Asheville’s former police evidence manager pleads guilty to stealing drugs
The same day, as it happened, federal prosecutors announced that William Lee Smith, the Asheville Police Department’s former evidence manager, had agreed to plead guilty to stealing between $10,000 and $30,000 of drugs from the department’s evidence room.
On April 2, we published Smith’s plea agreement:
Old Fort water contamination
A report from state health investigators brought troubling news to Old Fort last spring. On April 25, we reported:
“Some people who lived in Old Fort between 1984 and 1988 may have been exposed to levels of hazardous chemicals in their drinking water that may increase their chances of developing non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, kidney or liver cancer, according to a report recently released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.”
The work history of APD’s post-scandal evidence manager
Tim Scapin, the Asheville Police Department’s new evidence manager, entered a most-sensitive job last year. In a June 19 article, we explored his challenges and shared the personnel evaluations from his previous post in Florida:
Elevator inspections raise safety concerns
When an official audit found the state’s elevator safety inspections lacking, we published the document and found an elevator with troubling flaws in the Buncombe County Courthouse building. Our report, along with a follow-up from WLOS, helped get at least one elevator up to code.
New releases on Billy Graham’s historic relationship with President Richard Nixon
A recording of one of the last of Graham and Nixon’s controversial conversations was released last summer. In it, Nixon did something he almost never did: swear in the presence of the reverend.
In our reports, we added a rarely read oral history from a Nixon aide that recounted Graham’s angst with the president’s blunt language.
APD evidence audits show old problems, new approaches
In September, we reported on how Asheville’s new evidence manager was grappling with problems from the past and instituting new safeguards. See the documents in our report here.
Fracking in WNC?
In November testimony before a state legislative committee, a state environmental agency official revealed a plan to do a small fracking study in WNC. After our report, his agency said the plan was awaiting funding.
The rising price of public records
In February, North Carolina’s attorney general and governor disputed whether the rising cost of public records searches was warranted. We published their correspondence here.
Duke Power’s Asheville coal ash dams
We reported on the dams’ role in the ongoing controversy over Duke Power’s environmental problems, with key public records on the matter, in March.
The publicized suspension of Asheville women’s clinic that provides abortions
In a story that’s still unfolding, this month we reported on what internal documents show about how the state Department of Health and Human Services and Gov. McCrory’s administration touted Femcare’s suspension. Read our story here, and the key documents below.