UPDATE: Commissioner candidates R.L. Hoilman and Brandon Pittman have received the information they requested. The article has been revised to reflect this.
SPRUCE PINE – Mitchell News-Journal publisher and editor Brandon Roberts submitted a formal request to the North Carolina State Board of Elections to postpone the Primary Election scheduled for March 3 in Mitchell County.
Roberts sent a letter Sunday, Feb. 16, to North Carolina State Board of Elections chair Damon Circosta in which he said the Mitchell County Department of Social Services Director Sara Ross’ failure to comply with multiple requests for public information should be grounds to postpone the Primary Election.
“There are candidates for Mitchell County Commissioner, as well as a current commissioner, and private citizens who have requested documents available to them as public records from DSS, and they have not received them,” Roberts said. “This seems to be a stalling tactic to withhold documents that could have implications in the race for county commissioner. As a staunch advocate of transparency and of the public’s right to know, I have requested the Primary be postponed until all requests for public information have been honored, which takes the obvious politics at play here out of the equation concerning fair elections.”
Several people have made requests for information from Ms. Ross, including candidates for Mitchell County Commissioner R.L. Hoilman, Brandon Pittman and Wayne Godfrey, as well incumbent county commissioner Jeff Harding. As of Sunday, Feb. 16, Hoilman had received his documents. Pittman's request was honored at 6:34 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17, in an email.
“Mitchell County Finance Officer Mavis Parsley has gone above and beyond to be accommodating, abide by the law and provide the public records that have been requested from her office,” Roberts said. “Ms. Ross has not complied.”
At least one resident of Mitchell County, Cassandra Horton, who has been critical of Ms. Ross on social media, requested documents Feb. 5 via email and Feb. 10 through the Freedom of Information Act. Ms. Horton has received a phone call and subsequent email from Ms. Ross but has not received any documents.
“The phone call and email to Ms. Horton from Ms. Ross, were, in my opinion, blatant attempts to block a citizen’s access to public records and bullying tactics employed to try and intimidate Ms. Horton into either withdrawing her request or to silence her, neither of which should be tolerated by the free press, our elected officials or the North Carolina Board of Elections.”
The more recent DSS meeting, at which many of these numbers were supposed to be provided, was abruptly canceled, and the next meeting isn’t scheduled until after the Primary.
“There is a distinct and intended lack of transparency in play, and withholding these documents is an attempt to impede citizens’ right to know,” Roberts said. “Again, it is my belief these documents are being purposely withheld, and the Primary Election scheduled for March 3 should be postponed and rescheduled for a date after all requests for public information have been satisfied.”
Roberts said he does not feel as if the Primary will be postponed, but added it was a request that needed to be submitted, given the current circumstances.