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The Daily Tar Heel

House May Reject Attempt To Record Closed Meetings

The bill, which would require commissions, boards and other public bodies to audio or video tape closed sessions, must gain House approval by today or it will not be able to pass this session.

April 26 is the legislature's crossover deadline -- the point in the session by which bills other than appropriations and tax bills must have gained approval of one of the two houses.

Proposed by Rep. Robert Grady, R-Onslow, the bill to record closed sessions was set to go before the House on Tuesday, but time restraints prevented representatives from discussing it.

Instead, the bill was carried over to Wednesday's agenda, but it was not in the first sequence of bills introduced. Chairman of the Rules Committee William Culpepper, D-Chowan, made it the last bill on Wednesday's agenda -- again decreasing the House's chances of approving it before today's deadline.

The N.C. Press Association has been working with House members to develop support for the bill, but substantial opposition remains.

"My guess is the (House) leadership is opposed to it," said Tom Boney, president of the NCPA, attempting to explain why the bill was moved to the bottom of Wednesday's agenda.

The NCPA is in favor of the bill because it would allow the public to have a permanent record of what transpires in closed sessions, Boney said.

During closed-session meetings, county commissioners, town council and other board members typically discuss personal matters, land purchases and law suits.

State law requires public bodies to provide a general account of the meeting that briefly explains what officials discussed. Many think the reports provide a sufficient copy of the meeting's agendas, but other want a more accurate account.

But some organizations oppose the passage of the bill.

The N.C. County Commissioners and the N.C. League of Municipalities are groups lobbying against the bill.

Rep. R. Tracy Walker, R-Wilkes, a former county commissioner, said he opposes the bill.

Although Walker was a member of the Judiciary Committee that approved the bill for discussion on the House floor and experienced the prevention of a slander lawsuit when an audio record was made of a county commissioners' meeting, he said he would vote against the bill.

"I feel like local governments and county commissioners need some kind of chance to talk situations over in closed sessions," he said. "It would make officials feel uncomfortable and no longer at ease if they were taped during closed meetings."

But Boney pointed out that this concession is one of the main reasons the bill is needed and added that closed sessions give officials an opportunity to be careless.

"They think they are being candid when in fact (closed session) gives them an opportunity to be irresponsible."

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