Editor’s note: The following is a reply from Roanoke Rapids City Attorney Geoffrey Davis in response to inquiries from both rrspin.com and the Roanoke Rapids Herald on the recent decision to place police Chief Bobby Martin and Captain Jamie Hardy on unpaid administrative leave. It is presented in the form and style Davis sent it via email -- Editor
Thank you both for your interest in the above matter.
I believe I speak for everyone in Roanoke Rapids City Government when I say that we value transparency and the public's interest in having knowledge of the City's operations.
That said, any action by City personnel must conform to North Carolina law, which includes those portions of the General Statutes that relate to the release of protected personnel information.
No existing provision of law allows public interest or any purported "public right to know" to trump the protections afforded to government personnel regarding their employee records.
I also feel it important in this letter to respond to an argument I have heard in public, namely that personnel situations involving officers should be public and reported on in the same fashion as those situations where persons are arrested and charged with crimes.
I fundamentally disagree, because that approach elides the following critical distinction.
The officers involved here have not been charged with crimes, and like every other person who has not been charged with a crime, it would be grossly unfair for law enforcement to publish information regarding any purported investigation into their actions.
That said, in a situation where a law enforcement officer is charged with a crime, I believe everyone in the City Government would agree that it should be public information and released accordingly.
I recognize the above facts will not sit well with many of your readers, who are understandably curious about the current situation.
I suspect that many employees of the City are themselves struggling with these limitations. Regardless, City Administration has no ability to modify State personnel laws or the discretion to determine their application.
Only the General Assembly can do that, and I would advise those of your readers who feel that this approach is unfair to petition for revisions of those laws at the state level.
Since Friday, the City has responded to several requests for information regarding Chief Martin and Capt. Hardy's administrative leave.
As I have stated before, both officers are currently on non-disciplinary suspension, pursuant to the City's personnel policy. With respect to a non-disciplinary suspension such as this, N.C. Gen. Stat. §160A-168 significantly constrains the City's ability to release information.
However, at this time in response to your request I would like to highlight the following language of §160A-168 (c)(7):
The city manager, with concurrence of the council, may inform any person of the employment or nonemployment, promotion, demotion, suspension or other disciplinary action, reinstatement, transfer, or termination of a city employee and the reasons for that personnel action.
As you both are aware, we have a City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday March 21st. Proposed agendas went out this afternoon, and you will see that there is a closed session on the agenda to discuss a personnel matter pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318. l l(a)(6).
At this closed session I am advised that the City Manager plans to discuss the current situation with Council. I anticipate that following that meeting, and in accordance with §160A-168(c)(7), the City Manager will be able to release more information.
That said, keep in mind that regardless of the language of the statute, this is an ongoing personnel matter, and it will nonetheless limit the amount of detail we can give, at least until it is concluded in full.
Finally, with respect to RRSpin's request for closed session minutes, N.C. Gen. Stat. §143-318.10 governs their release.
Without conceding whether or not closed session minutes exist at this time which are relative to this matter – if such minutes do in fact exist, we would not be able to release them at this time under that statute.
Very truly yours,
Geoffrey P. Davis City Attorney
City of Roanoke Rapids