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Berger files personnel law reform bill

Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger this week has filed legislation intended to make public disciplinary actions, salary and employment histories, and letters of recommendation for public employees.

But he admitted after a close reading of his bill that it is likely going to need some work.

While the title of Senate Bill 1433 would require the release of letters of recommendation and disciplinary actions, the bill's text doesn't appear to.

It would require personnel officials to release the "date of each promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, separation, or other change in position classification." But that raises the question, would personnel officials disclose that there had been a demotion or just the date that a change in position classification had happened?

The bill also appears to only address the personnel law as it pertains to state employees. That's contained in General Statute 126. But teachers, local government and other public employees are covered in several other statutes. The language in each is nearly identical, but to catch all employees, Berger's legislation will likely have to amend each statute.

Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said he will check with his staff and with bill drafters to see if the legislation needs to be re-written. If so he will introduce a new version if and when it comes up in committee

Ultimately, the vehicle for personnel law changes may not be Berger's bill. State Sen. David Hoyle, a Gaston County Democrat, has said he plans to introduce similar reforms by amending existing legislation that is in play this session.

Both lawmakers are taking action after The News & Observer reported in a three-part series, Keeping Secrets, that North Carolina has one of the nation's most secretive personnel laws, preventing little more than the release of current salaries, positions and raises of public employees.



Perdue proposes personnel law reforms

Gov. Bev Perdue says she supports reforming the personnel law in the upcoming legislative session that beings Wednesday. She says she will draft legislation if no one else does.

“State personnel law is critical to me,” Perdue said in a recent interview. “. . . I’m seeing the possibility that [Senate Democrats] are going to come forward with something that releases [more] personnel data. I hope they do. If not, we’ll do it.”

Perdue, a New Bern Democrat, is the third state leader to propose opening up the personnel law, which a recent News & Observer series found to be among the most secretive in the nation. Senate leader Marc Basnight, a Manteo Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, have also said they will seek to make more personnel information public.

Keeping Secrets

They are employees who have committed crimes on the job, won their positions through political connections or have received big salaries and plum positions over the years.

They work, or worked, in state and local public jobs. Taxpayers paid their salaries, but they aren't entitled to know the details of these employees' hiring, compensation over the years, or performance. North Carolina's personnel law virtually shuts down that information.

On Sunday, The News & Observer began a three-part series, Keeping Secrets, that looks at the personnel law, what it hides and how its secrecy compares with other states. Day One looked at employees who behave badly, while Day Two looked at patronage and cronyism. The series includes a survey of state lawmakers on the issue, as well as comments from top legislative leaders. The series concludes Tuesday with a look at compensation and employment histories.

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