Monday, June 13, 2011

City Attorney Bob Oast's opinion on URTV's responsibility regarding Open Meeting Laws

This statement from Bob Oast was presented by City council liaison to URTV Robin Cape (presented to the Board of Directors Oct. 23, 2006)

I have looked through our agreement with URTV, and in URTV’s articles of
incorporation. I find nothing in there that requires that their meetings be
open to the public, or otherwise conducted in accordance with the Open
Meetings law. They are not a “public body” that is explicitly subject to the
law. That does not mean that the law does not apply to them, however.
It is my understanding that URTV operates substantially with public money
(cable subscriber paid PEG funds allocated by the City and County). Its
function is the management of a TV facility for the public access station.
The equipment and space it uses is paid for with public (PEG) money as
well. A North Carolina Court of Appeals case, News and Observer
Publishing Co. v. Wake County Hospital Systems, Inc., 55 NC App. 1
(1981), held that a non-profit agency contracting with a county to operate a
public hospital is subject to the Public Records law. The main factor that led
the Court to that conclusion was that the non-profit operated largely with
public money; clearly that is occurring here. Other factors might be the
extent to which the non-profit agency is controlled by the government with
it(sic) contracts or the extent to which it performs a governmental function.
It appears that the City and County exercise some degree of control over
URTV’s operations. While TV might not by itself be a governmental
function, a strong argument could be made that public access TV is by
definition governmental.
Even though the Wake County case involved public records and not open
meetings, I think that the same arguments could be made. On this basis, I
think that URTV is subject to the Open Meetings law. This means that the
meetings are required to be open (except for legally-permitted closed
sessions). This further means that “any person may photograph, film, taperecord,
or otherwise reproduce any part of a meeting required to be open.”
NCGS 143-318.6.
Since the County has some involvement with URTV as well, I’d want to
review my opinion with their lawyer, but the law is pretty clear and I don’t
think there will be any disagreement. I’ll try to do that today.
Of course, I think your reasoning that “it’s public access, for cryin’ out loud”
makes the most sense.
I hope that this is responsive to your question; if you need any further
information or need me to address the URTV board, please let me know.

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