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The Daily Tar Heel

NC Attorney General Cooper’s emails targeted

The GOP filed the massive request after Roy Cooper’s speech.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper gave a speech Monday urging government officials to be more transparent — and hours later, the N.C. Republican Party filed a massive open records request asking for 14 years’ worth of Cooper’s emails. 

The speech and the records request came at the start of Sunshine Week, an annual campaign promoting the right of citizens to be aware of what is going on in government. The speech was given at an annual Sunshine Day event in Durham, hosted by the N.C. Open Government Coalition.

Cooper said in his speech that it is already state policy to allow residents to have public access to what is going on in the government.

Though Cooper didn’t specifically mention Gov. Pat McCrory, his remarks follow some attention given to McCrory after he admitted to not reporting seven trips and $13,000 spent on trips in 2013.  The Democratic attorney general is widely expected to challenge McCrory for governor in 2016.

“It is the expectation that if you are doing business on the behalf of the public that the public has a right to see those actions and hold you accountable for them,” said Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College. 

Public documents don’t just include emails, but also government reports, data and videos taken by police being put out for public consumption.

“There has been barriers to transparency in recent years, particularly in the matter of cost,” said Jonathan Jones, spokesman for the N.C. Open Government Coalition. 

Though Jones said the GOP’s request for Cooper’s emails is a large one, similar records requests have been seen before — and any request for additional government transparency is one that the coalition’s members should agree with.

Directly after the speech was delivered, the N.C. GOP submitted a request to have Cooper’s emails and correspondence dating back to 2001 released to the public. The request includes any public or private email accounts.

Public access to records is a governmental issue and has always been part of North Carolina law.

“In general it is part of our democratic government that issues of accountability and openness are important qualities that we seek,” Bitzer said.

A video posted on the state GOP’s website mentions a Charlotte Observer editorial that criticized Roy Cooper — saying that when Cooper is asked to actually produce information, the issue of transparency becomes a much more complicated, murky issue.  

The importance of open government and public records at both the state and national levels, Bitzer said, is exemplified by the recent controversy over Hillary Clinton’s emails — she solely used a private email account to conduct government business when she was secretary of state.

Clinton has received a lot of backlash since it was revealed that the State Department had deleted some of the emails permanently.

Another obstacle to transparency is the fees charged by agencies for access to government information or correspondence.

“Keeping government correspondence open to the public should be encouraged,” Bitzer said. “That is transparency, that is accountability.”

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article incorrectly mischaracterized Attorney General Roy Cooper. He has not been criticized for asking state officials to delete emails after sending them. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

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