The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday September 29th

BOE breaking law again: N.C. Open Meetings Law trumps Student Code. No question.

The Board of Elections the body responsible for ensuring the legality of campuswide elections is breaking N.C. law.

On Sunday the BOE refused to let Daily Tar Heel reporters into a meeting in which it discussed fines to be levied on potential student body president candidates for campaign violations.

Under N.C. Open Meetings Law meetings of public bodies are presumed open.

If a body goes into closed session it can only be for one of nine specific reasons and the body must reference the part of the law that allows the meeting to be closed.

The N.C. Court of Appeals declared student government groups public bodies in 1998.

It was completely reprehensible unacceptable — and um illegal — for the BOE to go into closed session Sunday.

When challenged on the secrecy by The Daily Tar Heel during the meeting the board said the meeting needed to be closed so it could discuss confidential campaign violation reports.

Sorry" that's not one of the statutory reasons allowed by N.C. Open Meetings Law.

The Student Code states: ""The Board of Elections shall hold special meetings to hear complaints concerning candidates or the enforcement of elections laws"" to be attended by a majority of the voting members. Such meetings may be closed to the public by a majority vote of the Board of Elections.""

We love the Student Code. We think all candidates and elected student officials should follow it. We think the BOE should penalize them if they don't.

(That's why we're delighted the BOE held this meeting at all" albeit five and a half weeks after the violations were first reported by The Daily Tar Heel.)

But important as it is to this campus" even the Student Code doesn't supersede state law.

""We're assuming everything in the Student Code is legal"" BOE Chairman Ryan Morgan, a sophomore who's never served on the board before, told The Daily Tar Heel on Monday.

He further said that if there's a problem with the Code, the ball is in Congress' court.

But Congress Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Weynand rightly understands the relationship of Student Code to state law.

The General Statute of North Carolina would supersede anything the Code says.""

That should really go without saying.

Student government at UNC has a long and celebrated history of independence and self-regulation. That can and must continue" but in order for it to do so student officials must operate with integrity and in strict adherence to the law.

The Daily Tar Heel wanted to attend the Sunday meeting because it could reveal how the BOE interprets election law. Also the $40 fines handed down were larger than any in the past few years and we wonder what that says about how the BOE intends to carry out its duties this year.

Government works better in the open. We must be able to hold our public officials accountable for the work they do. The law is very straightforward.

Throughout the campaign season the BOE wields significant power over the election of our future student body president. An institution with such influence should not be allowed to operate without full transparency and public scrutiny. It must open the meetings.

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