Cowell - NC Ethics Commission correspondence

David Sirota filed this request with the North Carolina State Ethics Commission of North Carolina.
Status
Rejected

Communications

From: David Sirota

To Whom It May Concern:

Pursuant to North Carolina Public Records Law (G.S. §§ 132-1 through 132-10), I hereby request the following documents:

All correspondence between employees and/or members of the North Carolina State Ethics Commission and employees of the Office of State Treasurer regarding Treasurer Janet Cowell's proposal to serve on the board of James River Group Holdings and ChannelAdvisor.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

I hereby request such correspondence for the dates 1/1/14 to the present.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

Please search for responsive records regardless of format. I request the information in a machine-processable format, such as a spreadsheet (CSV or XLS) or word processor (TXT, DOC, DOCX) format. It can be provided by email, thumb drive, or CD. If it is unavailable in any other format, an OCRed PDF (i.e. searchable) will do.

If it is your position that some of these records are available but others are not (or a part of the request is too broad), please provide me with the records that are available.

If it is your position that any portion of the requested records is exempt from disclosure, I request that you provide it with an index of those documents as required under Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1972). As you are aware, a Vaughn index must describe each document claimed as exempt with sufficient specificity “to permit a reasoned judgment as to whether the material is actually exempt under FOIA.” Founding Church of Scientology v. Bell, 603 F.2d 945, 949 (D.C. Cir. 1979). Moreover, the Vaughn index must “describe each document or portion thereof withheld, and for each withholding it must discuss the consequences of supplying the sought-after information.” King v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 830 F.2d 210, 223-24 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (emphasis added). Further, “the withholding agency must supply ‘a relatively detailed justification, specifically identifying the reasons why a particular exemption is relevant and correlating those claims with the particular part of a withheld document to which they apply.’” Id.at 224 (citing Mead Data Central v. U.S. Dep’t of the Air Force, 566 F.2d 242, 251 (D.C. Cir. 1977)).

In the event some portions of the requested records are properly exempt from disclosure, please disclose any reasonably segregable non-exempt portions of the requested records. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). If it is your position that a document contains non-exempt segments, but that those non-exempt segments are so dispersed throughout the document as to make segregation impossible, please state what portion of the document is non-exempt, and how the material is dispersed throughout the document. Mead Data Central, 566 F.2d at 261. Claims of nonsegregability must be made with the same degree of detail as required for claims of exemptions in a Vaughn index. If a request is denied in whole, please state specifically that it is not reasonable to segregate portions of the record for release.

I request a waiver of fees associated with processing this request for records. International Business Times is a news media organization. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government. The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I would request your response within ten (10) business days.

Sincerely,

David Sirota
International Business Times
(720) 854-4875

From: Newson, Perry

Mr. Sirota:

We received your public records request and will respond to it as quickly as possible. Please realize, however, that most, if not all, of what you are seeking is confidential under the State Government Ethics Act, Chapter 138A of the North Carolina General Statutes. In particular, see section 138-13(e). We are currently in the process of searching for any responsive documents, but I wanted to give you an immediate response to your request. Due to individual staff members’ schedules and other pressing matters, it is unlikely that we will be able to give you an official response until early June. Please let me know if that will be sufficient for your purposes.

Our standard copy charge is $.25 per hard copy after 20 copies.

If you have any other questions in the meantime, please let me know.

Perry Y. Newson
Executive Director
State Ethics Commission
(919) 814-3600
NOTICE: Non-confidential e-mail correspondence to and from this address may be subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.
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May 12, 2016
North Carolina State Ethics Commission
1324 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1324

To Whom It May Concern:

Pursuant to North Carolina Public Records Law (G.S. §§ 132-1 through 132-10), I hereby request the following documents:

All correspondence between employees and/or members of the North Carolina State Ethics Commission and employees of the Office of State Treasurer regarding Treasurer Janet Cowell's proposal to serve on the board of James River Group Holdings and ChannelAdvisor.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

I hereby request such correspondence for the dates 1/1/14 to the present.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

Please search for responsive records regardless of format. I request the information in a machine-processable format, such as a spreadsheet (CSV or XLS) or word processor (TXT, DOC, DOCX) format. It can be provided by email, thumb drive, or CD. If it is unavailable in any other format, an OCRed PDF (i.e. searchable) will do.

If it is your position that some of these records are available but others are not (or a part of the request is too broad), please provide me with the records that are available.

If it is your position that any portion of the requested records is exempt from disclosure, I request that you provide it with an index of those documents as required under Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1972). As you are aware, a Vaughn index must describe each document claimed as exempt with sufficient specificity “to permit a reasoned judgment as to whether the material is actually exempt under FOIA.” Founding Church of Scientology v. Bell, 603 F.2d 945, 949 (D.C. Cir. 1979). Moreover, the Vaughn index must “describe each document or portion thereof withheld, and for each withholding it must discuss the consequences of supplying the sought-after information.” King v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 830 F.2d 210, 223-24 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (emphasis added). Further, “the withholding agency must supply ‘a relatively detailed justification, specifically identifying the reasons why a particular exemption is relevant and correlating those claims with the particular part of a withheld document to which they apply.’” Id.at 224 (citing Mead Data Central v. U.S. Dep’t of the Air Force, 566 F.2d 242, 251 (D.C. Cir. 1977)).

In the event some portions of the requested records are properly exempt from disclosure, please disclose any reasonably segregable non-exempt portions of the requested records. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). If it is your position that a document contains non-exempt segments, but that those non-exempt segments are so dispersed throughout the document as to make segregation impossible, please state what portion of the document is non-exempt, and how the material is dispersed throughout the document. Mead Data Central, 566 F.2d at 261. Claims of nonsegregability must be made with the same degree of detail as required for claims of exemptions in a Vaughn index. If a request is denied in whole, please state specifically that it is not reasonable to segregate portions of the record for release.

I request a waiver of fees associated with processing this request for records. International Business Times is a news media organization. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government. The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I would request your response within ten (10) business days.

Sincerely,

David Sirota
International Business Times
(720) 854-4875

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From: David Sirota

Thank you for your response. Whatever documents you can provide me at your earliest convenience would be most appreciated. If it must wait until June, I will certainly be interested in receiving them then. Thank you.

David Sirota

From: Newson, Perry

Mr. Sirota:

I was able to obtain the information I needed sooner than expected, so I am now able to respond to your public records request of May 12, 2016. As I originally thought, all of the information you have requested is confidential under section 138-13(e) of the State Government Ethics Act, Chapter 138A of the North Carolina General Statutes.

I am sorry that I cannot be of further assistance in this matter, but the Ethics Act is quite clear that what you are seeking from the Commission is confidential and not a matter of public record. Thank you for your understanding.

Perry Y. Newson
Executive Director
State Ethics Commission
(919) 814-3600
NOTICE: Non-confidential e-mail correspondence to and from this address may be subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.

From: MuckRock

To Whom It May Concern:

I hereby appeal the decision to block the release of correspondence between the North Carolina Treasurer's office and the State Ethics Commission. In emails from the Treasurer's office, Treasurer Janet Cowell told one of her donors she could get the ethics commission to tailor its ruling to meet the donor's needs and preferences. The public has an abiding interest in learning whether and how Treasurer Cowell was able to accomplish this.

If there is a more appropriate destination for this letter, provision of the suited contact would be greatly appreciated.

From: Newson, Perry

Mr. Sirota:

I normally do not engage in a back-and-forth dialogue concerning our compliance with the Ethics Act, but I feel the need to make one small exception in this case. We are not “blocking” anything. We are prohibited by law from releasing correspondence that is confidential and not a matter of public record. Furthermore, while I have no knowledge of what Secretary Cowell may or may not have told donors or any other third party regarding this opinion request, I seriously question the factual validity of your statement. But even assuming it is true, it had no impact on the Commission’s decision. There was absolutely no correspondence or communication with Commission members or staff regarding “tailoring” the opinion in any way. That did not happen here, it has never happened, and it never will happen.

If there is anything I can legally discuss with you, I gladly will, but otherwise I must abide by the confidentiality restrictions of the Ethics Act.

Perry Y. Newson
Executive Director
State Ethics Commission
(919) 814-3600
NOTICE: Non-confidential e-mail correspondence to and from this address may be subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.

From: David Sirota

Mr. Newson:

Thank you for this. As we reported, Treasurer Cowell reassured her donor that she would have the ethics commission ruling tailored to meet the company's "needs and preferences." You can see the email correspondence in which she said that right here:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/311674996/Cowell-Abram-Email-2

As we reported:

In a January 2016 email specifically about the company offering her a board seat while she is still serving as treasurer, Cowell told Abram and James River’s outside counsel that her office would contact him about making sure the state ethics commission customized its approval of the deal to suit the company’s requirements.

“I will have one of the attorneys in the Treasurer's office reach out regarding a formal conflict of interest statement from the NC state ethics board so that the statement meets your needs and preferences,” she told James River’s lawyer, after Abram introduced them over email. Cowell forwarded one set of emails in the correspondence to two of her aides in the Treasurer's office.

In light of that, we are requesting the correspondence between the Treasurer's office and the ethics commission, and plan to appeal your decision to block the records from being released. Thank you.

David

From: Newson, Perry

Mr. Sirota:

I responded on May 16 and May 20. The situation has not changed, and we are still bound by applicable confidentiality restrictions as explained previously.

Perry Y. Newson
Executive Director
State Ethics Commission
(919) 814-3600
NOTICE: Non-confidential e-mail correspondence to and from this address may be subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.

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