WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Often the bulk of discussion about important local issues happens outside official meetings, so emails between government workers and elected officials shed light on what's really going on.
Not only is it legal to read most government emails, some area towns and counties make it pretty easy to do.
Anyone can use a designated computer in the New Hanover Government Complex to search for emails between public officials.
Brunswick County, the City of Wilmington, and several area towns have similar public email computers, but in many other places, people wanting access to emails have to make specific requests and wait for the government to respond.
Many counties and cities post meeting agendas on their websites, but only some are current. For instance, Navassa's town council meets Thursday, but the agenda isn't on the town's website.
Southport Town Manager Kerry McDuffie was surprised to learn his town hasn't put an agenda online since October.
Even though state law makes it clear what information is available to the public, actually getting the records can sometimes be challenging.
In November local contractor Napier Fuller requested all emails sent and received over four years by Michael Krause, the former CEO of the Wilmington Housing Authority.
Officials at the housing authority said Fuller's request is so large, it will probably be June before they can get him all the emails.
Jeff Hovis, chair of the housing authority, said Fuller's request includes 109,000 emails and the authority has to review the messages before they give them to Fuller to weed out anything that's confidential under state law.
Hovis offered to let Fuller have the emails as they're reviewed, but Fuller wants to search through them all at once.
Fuller said the request has taken much longer than he anticipated, but he believes it will be worth it.
"I think it definitely affects the way people behave and public policy when they know the documents are available to be reviewed," Fuller said.
Fuller explains it's easier to get public records from New Hanover County government because they label confidential emails on the front end, so they don't have to pick them out when they get records requests.
Hovis said the housing authority is working to streamline its public records process and hope to have a new procedure in place by this summer.
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