A webinar conducted by the Office of State Personnel this week raised an interesting question about the upcoming changes to the state's personnel law: Would it allow the release of dismissal letters handed out to employees before the law changes on Oct. 1?
One personnel manager, Barbara Gibson, who works for the N.C. Department of Justice, suggested that it wasn't fair for employees who have been fired to now face seeing those firing letters made public. She said they lost the ability to grieve over the release of those letters.
"In some cases, it could be ugly information," Gibson said.
Drake Maynard, a senior administrator with the Office of State Personnel, told her he didn't have an answer. He said he had an opinion on the matter "but not one I want to put out on the web."
The Office of State Personnel had resisted making such information public in the first place. Its director, Linda Coleman, a former state House member from Wake County, had backed an amendment that would have limited the disclosure of dismissals to cases in which employees had been convicted of a crime. It would not have made dismissal letters a public record.
The amendment passed in the House, but did not make it into the law. There is nothing in the new law that says it is to be applied prospectively, and none of the discussion in the House and Senate indicated that it would keep private dismissal letters that explain the firing of public employees prior to Oct. 1.
But there is plenty in the new law that is intended to be applied retrospectively. It makes public salary and employment histories, which include suspensions, demotions, dismissals and promotions.
Our series earlier this year, Keeping Secrets, showed North Carolina has had one of the most secretive personnel laws in the nation because it only made public the current salary and employment status of state and local workers.
Maynard said he is seeking direction on the dismissal letters from Gibson's agency, which includes the Attorney General's office.