REPLY TO: Edwin M. Speas, Jr.
(919) 716-6400 FAX: (919) 716-0135
February 6, 2003
Charles J. Waldrup Associate Vice President for Legal Affairs The University of North Carolina Office of the President Post Office Box 2688 Chapel Hill, NC 27515-2688
Re: Advisory Opinion: Public Records Request; Coaches’ Contracts;
G.S. 132-1 et seq.
Several of the constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina have received requests pursuant to the Public Records Law, G.S. 132-1 et seq., to inspect and copy a series of contracts between or involving those institutions and the coaches of their athletic teams. You have identified the documents that would be responsive to this request and have forwarded them to us for our review and opinion as to whether those documents are public records which must be released.
We have now completed our review of these documents. They can be divided into two groups: (1) the contracts under which the institutions employ the coaches and (2) contracts between the institutions and certain vendors or suppliers which involve or concern those coaches or other documents related to those contracts. For the reasons explained below we conclude that each of the documents forwarded for our review is a public record.
The employment contracts between the institutions and their coaches are similar in form and content. In addition to standard or typical contract terms, those documents outline the institutions’ policies and standards regarding athletics and describe the respective rights and obligations of the institutions and coaches with respect to those policies and standards. The only information in these particular documents that could reasonably be described as personal to the coaches is their salaries.
The guiding principle for determining whether records maintained by public entities are subject to public inspection or not is that all such records not expressly made private or confidential by an act of the legislature are public. See, e.g., Virmani v. Presbyterian Health Services Corp., 350 N.C. 449, 465 (1999) (“North Carolina’s public records law Charles J. Waldrup February 6, 2003 Page 2
grants public access to documents it defines as public records absent a specific statutory exemption.”) The question therefore is whether the legislature has expressly provided for the confidentiality of the information in the contracts in question.
There are three statutes that address the confidentiality or public status of documents related to state employees. G.S. 126-23 expressly requires all state agencies and institutions to maintain a record listing certain personal information such as name, age, salary and position for each of its employees. The statute requires agencies and institutions to keep this record of basic employment open to public inspection during normal business hours. In contrast to G.S. 126-23, G.S. 126-22 and 24 expressly state that the “personnel files” of all state employees are confidential and exempted from inspection and examination under the Public Records Law. However, G.S. 126-22 defines that confidential “personnel file” to consist of information relating to an employee’s
“application,selection or nonselection, promotions, demotions, transfers, leave, salary, suspension, performance evaluation forms disciplinary actions and transaction of employment wherever located and in whatever form.”
Though this definition is quite broad, it does not include within its scope, either expressly or by any reasonable inference, information relating to an institution’s general policies, standards, practices and procedures or to descriptions of an employee’s duties. These are the types of information contained in the contracts we have examined. Applying the principle that all information contained in the records of public agencies and institutions that has not expressly been made private or confidential by an act of the legislature is a public record, we are of the opinion that the coaches’ employment contracts we have examined are available for inspection and copying upon request.
The other category of contracts and related documents you provided for our review and opinion have the following characteristics, at least on their face: (a) the parties to the contracts are the institutions and various vendors or suppliers; (b) the contracts are not signed by the coaches though the contracts do provide some benefits to the coaches or impose some obligations on them; (c) institutional property or resources are affected by implementation of the contracts; and (d) the original or copies of the documents are maintained by the universities. There is no statute that makes documents with these characteristics private or confidential. Thus, in our opinion they are public records and should be made available for inspection and copying by citizens upon request.
Charles J. Waldrup February 6, 2003 Page 3
In sum, in our opinion each of the documents you forwarded for our review is a public record under the Public Records Law. We, of course, express no opinion regarding any contracts or documents other than those you provided for our review.
Very truly yours,
Edwin M. Speas, Jr.
Chief Deputy Attorney General