As Carolina Public Press reported yesterday, Asheville still hasn’t seen its $175,000 report on drugs, guns and money that disappeared from the police department’s evidence room.
But calls for releasing the audit are growing louder.
Today, Carolina Public Press — the region’s only online nonprofit news organization devoted to original in-depth, investigative and independent reporting — joins other top area media organizations in calling for a prompt release of the audit.
According to the contract entered into between the city of Asheville and the auditing company, a copy of that report — which was paid for using city taxpayer funds and is, we believe, subject to the N.C. Public Records Law — should have gone to city officials, with the understanding that portions pertinent to a pending criminal investigation would be redacted.
Yesterday, we published the most comprehensive collection of publicly released records related to the evidence-room audit to date, including the contract itself. View and/or download those documents here.
But more than a year later — and more than three months after the report was completed — no one in city government has seen it, according to Asheville officials, who spoke to Carolina Public Press last week. The Asheville Citizen-Times reported Sunday that two elected officials contacted by the newspaper either could not be reached for comment or said they were waiting for District Attorney Ron Moore to release the document, according to the report.
Now, why are we, at Carolina Public Press, joining the statement (which is published below)?
Because we believe that the N.C. Public Records Law should be upheld. This issue — as with all issues related to government transparency — is essential to our organization’s mission.
We believe that our government, its related agencies, departments and elected officials should abide by the overarching and essential premise that an open and transparent government is vital to a working democracy.
We believe the residents of Asheville should fully understand the reasons for, the results of, and impact of the evidence-room audit of a department charged with upholding and protecting public safety, an audit that also was paid for in a time of shrinking city and county budgets.
We believe our city officials and residents should call for and receive full, unvarnished access to the audit they commissioned and paid for. And we believe these records should be made available as quickly as the law allows.
The workings of our government should not be or remain hidden.
Statement calling for the release of the Asheville Police Department evidence room audit
Last year, news emerged that guns, drugs and money were missing from the Asheville Police Department’s evidence room. Asheville City Council allocated $175,000 in taxpayer money to fund an audit of the evidence room, to reveal how many items were missing. The issue became a major question of public confidence in local law enforcement.
That audit was completed in early January, and delivered to District Attorney Ron Moore, who has not made it public.
Moore has also not responded to repeated open records requests in the ensuing months, neither turning over the records nor citing a clear legal reason why they should not be released. In doing so, Moore has failed to comply with state law requiring a response to open records requests “as promptly as possible.”
Furthermore, according to attorneys from the North Carolina Press Association — longtime experts in open records law — the results of the audit should be public.
District Attorney Ron Moore’s actions are not in compliance with either state law or the practices of transparent government that the people of Buncombe County deserve from their elected officials, especially those charged with upholding the law.
As members of the local media who believe in a free press and open government, we call on Moore to turn over the results of the evidence room audit and help restore public trust.
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