Salisbury denies request to release public records on Fibrant discussions

Published 11:27 am Thursday, April 20, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — The city of Salisbury has declined a public records request related to ongoing discussions about the future of Fibrant.

On April 9, the Salisbury Post submitted a public records request for the identity of and proposals from three finalists interested in buying, leasing or managing Fibrant — a city-owned internet, TV and phone service. The city previously provided the names of companies who submitted a proposal or expressed interest but were not chosen as finalists. The Post also requested the proposals from those companies.

Chapel Hill law firm Robinson Bradshaw, which was retained to assist with the Fibrant discussions, said the city will not release any of the records sought by the Post.

In a letter dated April 14, attorney J. Dickson Phillips III of Robinson Bradshaw said the city had declined the public records request because state law does not cover the requested records and that releasing them “would clearly be contrary to the public interest.”

“We trust that you will recognize that the public’s interest would not be best served by the public release of the submissions received by the city at this time, and that in fact the city is acting properly and entirely in accordance with law and best practices in declining immediate production,” Phillips wrote in the letter.

He cited a state law on government’s ability to purchase technology, such as computers for employees to use, in saying that the Fibrant records are exempt from the public records law or are not considered public records until the city completes a contract.

Phillips also said that the identity of the companies is not a public record, though he did not cite a section of the law to support that contention.

At least one City Council member, David Post, has said releasing the names of that finalists would not harm the city’s ongoing negotiations.

Post said material harm could come if reporters for the Salisbury Post researched the identity of companies and tried to contact their representatives.

State public records laws do not allow government entities to consider the purpose for which records will be used when a records request is made.

Phillips wrote that the city plans to make the Fibrant submissions public no later than the date that a contract “is entered into.”

It’s unclear when a contract might be finalized. The City Council and a business advisory committee have met twice to discuss proposals for Fibrant. They met with the finalists and requested additional information. Those meetings have been closed to the public.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.