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Need to know



Hard telling if we'll ever know exactly what the deal was with that state property sale the governor scotched last week, but just about anyone can look at the balance sheet and compare House Speaker Jim Black's proposed sale of a state building for $1 and Gov. Easley's $5.25 million for the same piece of property and decide who landed us the largest fish.

The bigger worry, though, is how little we would have known about this had not the two branches squared off over it and some enterprising reporters at the N&O not latched on to the story.

Whether it's selling off state (that's we the people's) assets at rock bottom prices or corporate palm greasing for new jobs, the people we've hired to represent us are keeping us more and more in the dark. That may be good for cutting deals and keeping secrets, but we loose oversight, scrutiny and, ultimately, accountability. If we rely on politicians to decide what we ought and ought not know, then we're not going to get anywhere near the full picture.

With deals cooking on what to do with the Dorothea Dix property, Blount Street and a few other parcels scattered around the state, North Carolina's leaders need to be a lot more forthcoming to reassure us that what's being done in our name is truly in our best interest.

By coincidence, the squabble between the governor and Black surfaced in proximity to Sunshine Week--a new annual mid-March event to publicize the importance of laws that require government to do business in the open and allow greater accessibility to government records. A review of what's on the books here along with recent court actions show that North Carolina has a few challenges in the sunshine department.

On April 19 the state Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case between The Alamance News and the City of Burlington that will determine if a government body can sue an individual (in this case the paper's publisher) just for seeking information. A trial court ruled in 2002 that the city could sue the paper for objecting to a closed door meeting and asking for the minutes. Thankfully, the ruling was overturned by the state Court of Appeals, but the city has appealed to the state Supreme Court. That's where we hope the notion of a pre-emptive strike against anyone seeking official information will be put to rest. A government being able to punish someone for daring to ask for information isn't just chilling; it's positively freezing.

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