Some final thoughts on CMS’s decision to hire Charles Jeter

My piece raising questions about CMS’s hiring of Charles Jeter was posted on the morning of January 17. The thorough piece written by Ann Doss Helms in the Charlotte Observer in response to my piece was posted at the Observer’s website at 3:45pm on January 19 (it came out in print in the Sunday edition on January 22). I finally received a response from CMS to the final two questions about the number of applicants and number of applicants interviewed at 5:54pm on January 19 – two hours after Ann’s piece was posted online at the Observer. CMS’s response echoed the numbers cited in Ann’s piece: four total applicants and three total applicants interviewed before the position was filled.

So why did it take the involvement of a Charlotte Observer reporter for CMS to provide me this information? How many other requests for records or information from residents/voters/parents go unanswered because the person making the request isn’t a reporter for the Observer?

The Observer piece only raised additional questions in my mind. First, CMS General Counsel George Battle III, who is paid at least $190,000 according to the most recent salary figures online, stated in the Observer, “Jeter’s predecessor didn’t register.” This seems contrary to filings at the NC Secretary of State’s Office showing Jonathan Sink registered as the local government liaison for CMS in January 2013.

If Mr. Jeter’s predecessor didn’t register, then why is his registration form at the Secretary of State’s Office? [See registration form below.]

Sink registration

Of note, page 2 of Mr. Sink’s registration form only lists one out of a possible thirty-one categories on which he intends to lobby – #9 Education. In comparison, Mr. Jeter’s registration form, signed on January 17, lists a staggering SIXTEEN categories on which he intends to lobby as the local government liaison for CMS – including #9 Education, but also including such categories as #22 Law Enforcement/Courts/Judges/Crimes/Prison, #26 Natural Resources/Forest Products/Fisheries/Mining Products, and #29 Transportation/Highways/Streets/Roads.

Why would the local government liaison for CMS ever need to lobby the general assembly about mining and mining products?? [See registration form below.]

Jeter registration

Second, Mr. Battle was quoted in the Observer denying responsibility for the refusal to release the applicant and interviewee numbers to me. If Mr. Battle was not responsible for making the determination on whether or not to provide the requested information to me, then who in the CMS Legal department did make this decision? Based on the email responses from my contact at CMS it seemed obvious CMS Legal was being consulted throughout this process. My initial request was sent on December 13 and the initial response from CMS was received on January 3 stating, “… awaiting a response from CMS Legal on whether [applicant and interviewee figures] can be released.” On January 6, CMS responded again stating, “… CMS Legal has determined that no records exist of this information.” The final email came from CMS Chief Communications Officer Kathryn Block but only referenced “CMS” in general, not CMS Legal, stating, “CMS has considered items four and five…”

If Mr. Battle didn’t make the decision to deny me the requested information, does that mean the CMS Communications Department is making determinations on what records/information is or is not disclosable under the law without consulting with CMS Legal?

Finally, I still want someone to explain to me how a local government liaison produces $91,000 worth of value to the taxpayers. Don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath…

On CMS’s decision to hire Charles Jeter

[Jan. 19, 2017 update – Thanks to Ann Doss Helms at the Charlotte Observer for writing a follow-up story today on this issue. You can read it here.]

Why did the Charlotte Observer need almost 650 words in their article on December 5, 2016 just to announce former elected official Charles Jeter (R) as the new government liaison for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools? It’s almost as if someone involved with CMS felt they really needed to justify to the taxpayers why this hire was worth at least $91,000 of their tax dollars a year. But, even after reading all those words in the online edition of the Observer I was still left with unanswered questions about CMS’s hiring of Mr. Jeter.

  • Why would a former politician who resigned unexpectedly at the end of July citing the need to devote time to his young family then apply for a job less than three months later that will likely require him to travel back and forth to Raleigh on a regular basis? And in case you didn’t follow the District 92 House race too closely – the seat flipped from (R) to (D) in November after Mr. Jeter’s unexpected resignation.
  • Why would CMS hire a former elected official when he would be prohibited from even doing his job until 6 months after he left office pursuant to the “cooling off” period for lobbyists in North Carolina? [See NCGS 120C-304(b).] This one was easily answered by the NC Ethics Commission after I started reviewing this issue. The 6 month “cooling off” period is not applicable to Mr. Jeter because he was actually hired as a local government liaison, not a lobbyist, and local government liaisons are only subject to Article 5 of the lobbying law according to this 2011 formal advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission. What’s the actual difference between a lobbyist and a local government liaison? Good question.
  • Even though he’s only a local government liaison, not a lobbyist, he still has to register as a liaison with the Secretary of State’s Office just like his predecessor. [See NCGS 120C-502(a).] Why then has Mr. Jeter still not registered as a liaison with the Secretary of State’s Office as of the morning of January 17, 2017? You can search for yourself here.
  • If he “got out of his trucking company” as the article stated, why is Mr. Jeter still listed as the President of this trucking company according to the Secretary of State’s website?
  • There are nine board members on the CMS Board of Education – why was only one, Rhonda Lennon from District 1 (which covers Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson), cited in the article as mentioning the job opportunity to a friend? When did Ms. Lennon mention this job opportunity to Mr. Jeter and how many other friends did she mention the job opportunity to? Surely other board members mentioned this great job opportunity to their friends as well, right?
  • Since Mr. Jeter said he went through a “lengthy selection process” in the Observer article, and since surely other board members mentioned this great opportunity to qualified friends, how many other qualified applicants did Mr. Jeter beat out for this $91,000 a year taxpayer funded job?

I decided to send a records request to CMS on Dec. 13, 2016 to help answer some of these questions. My requests are below along with CMS’s responses in italics.

1) The date the job was first publicly posted and all forms in which the public job posting occurred, e.g., online, newspaper, etc.; [Received January 3 – The position was posted on the CMS job board 10/7/16 – 10/14/16.]

2) The job description or any description of job duties listed; [Received January 4 – see below.]

3) The anticipated or expected salary range listed; [Received January 3 – As advertised in the job posting, the salary range is $71,572.00-$91,187.00.]

4) The number of total applicants applying for this position before it was filled; [Received January 3 – #4 and #5 are requests for information rather than records (I’m awaiting a response from CMS Legal on whether these items can be released)]

5) The total number of applicants interviewed for this position before it was filled; and

6) The date and manner in which an offer of employment was extended to Charles Jeter. [Received January 3 – Date and manner in which an offer of employment was extended is personnel information that isn’t open to public record.]

CMS_Job Description

After the initial responses from CMS we learned the job was only posted for one week and only at CMS’s job board. We also learned Mr. Jeter was hired at or very near the maximum salary since, according to the Observer article, his new job will pay him $91,000 a year. What we didn’t learn was how many other people applied and/or were interviewed for this job during the “lengthy selection process” described by Mr. Jeter or how long after the job posting was he actually offered the job.

On January 6 CMS finally responded to requests 4 & 5 by stating – CMS Legal has determined that no records exist of this information. I asked for clarification – Does this mean the answer to numbers 4 & 5 is zero (0) applicants? Or, does this response mean that no records exist of any applicants applying or interviewing, but that the number is not zero (0)? On January 9 CMS responded to my request for clarification – The response to points 4 and 5 is: there is no record(s) that exist pertaining to the applicant number or number of candidates interviewed.

Still not being satisfied since I originally requested records or information, I revised my request and asked another way – 4) How many total applicants applied for this position before it was filled; and 5) How many total applicants were interviewed for this position before it was filled. CMS responded the same day on January 9 – Thank you for your follow-up inquiry. The items requested in 4 & 5 do not fall in the category of personnel information that is defined in the personnel privacy statutes as public information. Additionally, we have a concern that disclosing such information runs the risk of someone being able to identify the applicants and that would be a disclosure in violation of the personnel privacy laws.

Now we were getting somewhere. So someone at CMS had determined requests 4 & 5 didn’t have to be answered because of personnel privacy laws. But what specific laws were they relying on? Again on January 9 I asked for additional information – Please have CMS Legal specify any and all statutes in support of their refusal to provide the requested information. The next day, January 10, CMS responded – NCGS 132-6.2(e) states that a public agency is not required to respond to records requests by “creating or compiling a record that does not exist.”

I still wasn’t satisfied with CMS’s response to what I thought was a simple question so on January 10 I requested a time to discuss over the phone. After not receiving a response I left a voicemail with my point of contact at CMS requesting the same. On January 11 the Chief Communications Officer at CMS, Kathryn Block, emailed the following response in part – CMS has considered items four and five and determined that disclosing such information runs the risk of someone being able to identify the applicants. This would represent a violation of personnel privacy laws. CMS takes the privacy of its employees and applicants very seriously. Therefore, we are unable to fulfill this portion of your request.

To recap: CMS initially declined responding to 4 & 5 because no records existed. No wait, they said, it’s because responding would violate personnel privacy laws. On second thought, they said, it’s definitely because no records exist and we don’t have to create records that don’t exist.  Seriously though, we can’t disclose the requested information because it would violate personnel privacy laws.

Which is it CMS, no records exist or disclosing the number of applicants and/or interviewees would violate personnel privacy laws?

I decided to consult with Jonathan Jones, Director of the NC Open Government Coalition, who helpfully explained the limitations of a records request. He stated, “[CMS] is only legally obligated to provide records and not information. That’s why it ends up being a potentially valid response to your requests. It’s not a valid response if a record does exist that would answer your request for information and they would rather withhold it for personnel reasons. You can’t argue both because  either the record exists or it doesn’t.”

Essentially, CMS responded to my questions about the number of applicants and interviewees with a “No Comment.” Fair enough. But, based on the job only being posted for one week at the CMS job board and based on CMS’s conflicting responses and absurd conclusion that revealing the number of applicants would somehow result in someone being able to determine the identity of an applicant, it’s also fair for me to infer there was only one applicant and one interviewee – Charles Jeter.

Another example of your tax dollars hard at work in Mecklenburg County.



On the vote to replace Rep. Charles Jeter

The column below originally appeared in the Sept. 8, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. Mr. Jeter has been back in the news recently when it was reported in the Charlotte Observer CMS hired him as a lobbyist at an annual taxpayer funded salary of $91,000. How exactly a lobbyist produces $91,000 worth of value to the taxpayers isn’t explained in the Observer article. The Daily Haymaker has questioned this use of taxpayer funds since Mr. Jeter isn’t yet a registered lobbyist and is actually prohibited from even registering as a lobbyist until the “later of the close of session as set forth in G.S. 120C-100(a)(4)b.1 in which the legislator served or six months after leaving office” per NCGS 120C-304(a)(2).

Despite being in extra innings at the moment, the current session in which Mr. Jeter served before resigning is likely to end before the six month mark after he left office – which, if you calculate it based on when he formally resigned with the Board of Elections, August 9, and not when he informally notified party leadership of his intention to resign on July 25, would mean Mr. Jeter isn’t even able to register as a lobbyist until on or about February 9, 2017. Were there no other qualified candidates considered by CMS who could start work immediately? I have sent a records request to CMS in an attempt to find this out and will report back when/if I receive a response.

Funny how neither one of our local weekly papers was able to find space to cover this issue this week – but what do I know, I’m just another one of those outlets for fake news online pandering to the un-informed masses.

And my offer to provide a records request template to anyone interested in submitting their own records request still stands. Just send me an email.


How did we ever find outlets for our self-righteousness before social media?

My current social media platform of choice is Twitter, which at least keeps self-righteousness and virtue signaling limited to 140 characters (although Twitter’s increasing culture of censorship has me looking for an alternative platform).

The latest non-toll related online social media outrage du jour took place last month after the vote to replace former state house representative Charles Jeter.

Mr. Jeter notified Republican party leadership of his sudden intention to resign on the morning of July 25, citing personal reasons. He did not provide formal notice of his resignation to the state board of elections until the afternoon of Aug. 9 – 15 days later. There has still not been any explanation provided by Mr. Jeter for the 15-day delay in providing formal notice of his resignation to the appropriate officials at the board of elections. He has declined requests for comments via Twitter.

Why is this 15-day delay important? Because rules allow the Mecklenburg County Republican Party to nominate and vote on a replacement candidate in the event of a resignation, but only after notice has been given to the appropriate officials. The vote to replace Mr. Jeter did not occur until Aug. 17 – the same night, coincidentally, a vote took place to nominate a replacement for former Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherford County. Mr. Hager, by comparison, gave appropriate notice of his resignation on or about Aug. 12, and the replacement vote promptly took place a week later.

The candidate nominated to replace Mr. Jeter on the November ballot, Danae Caulfield, has a severely limited number of days to campaign before the election putting her at a distinct disadvantage compared with her Democrat opponent, who has reported raising over $100,000 this election cycle. The 15 days Mr. Jeter delayed in formally resigning did nothing to increase her electoral odds. [UPDATE – Caulfield did end up losing the election by approx. 3,676 votes. Could this margin have been overcome with more time to fundraise and campaign?]

You would have assumed wrong if you assumed the social media outrage referred to at the outset was directed at Mr. Jeter for his delay in formally resigning. Instead, Facebookers took to their keyboards to furiously vent about the Mecklenburg GOP executive board and Justin Moore, the nominee voted to replace Mr. Jeter for the remainder of the current term.

You see, this was just another example of the GOP elites conspiring to trample anti-toll conservatives by not voting for Mr. Jeter’s primary opponent from earlier this year, Tom Davis, even though Mr. Moore has also always opposed the I-77 toll plan.

Mr. Davis was apparently entitled to the replacement vote, according to some posts, because he nearly defeated Mr. Jeter in the primary. According to this logic, these same individuals would be expected to support Sarah McAulay and Jill Swain to be nominated for town board or mayor in the event of an absence since both were runners-up in the last election – an unlikely scenario.

Many were upset with Mr. Moore for not running for both slots, to finish the term and get on this fall’s ballot, since an incumbent running in November would have been more likely to prevail. But Mr. Davis made clear prior to the Mecklenburg GOP meeting on Aug. 17 he did not intend to run for the ballot slot (and, in fact, did not run for the ballot slot), and I have yet to hear the same criticism leveled against him.

If you really want to effect change locally, you have to show up to your party’s annual precinct meeting at a minimum. It will be interesting to see how many of those expressing their outrage online actually show up to be counted at next year’s precinct meeting.

An addendum: I received a few emails asking for records requests templates after my most recent column on public records. This led me to think there are likely other members of the public who want more information from their local government on various public policy issues or elected officials. So, if you’re interested in obtaining information related to a specific public policy or elected official, send me an email with details and I’ll consider whether to follow up with my own records request.