In life, there are precious few chances at the ballot box to send a message about the public’s right to know. And one of those rare chances is before voters right now in the race pitting incumbent, open government champion Rep. Marilyn Avila against challenger Joe John.
Voters can ill afford to miss this chance to preserve and strengthen their right to know about government by voting for Rep. Avila.
Avila’s record as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives for the last half dozen years is impressive by any measure. And that record has rightfully earned her a place among top House leaders, the only woman, we might add, in the core leadership group.
Yet Rep. Avila’s record on preserving and promoting improvement of the public’s right to know about government actions and operations is more impressive still. When push came to shove to save the public’s right to know by maintaining the requirement that government agencies notify the public of upcoming actions — like zoning and permitting of smelting operations near residential communities — Rep. Avila stood strong when few others did.
She made historic comments on the House floor against the political headwinds of her own party by facing down Republican leaders, in some instances, who would have effectively eliminated the public’s right to know through the placement of notification of upcoming government action in the hands of third parties, including this newspaper, rather than entrusting the public’s notification to the government alone.
For that, Rep. Avila was awarded the highest honor bestowed by the North Carolina Press Association for the defense of open government and free speech rights.
Avila’s opponent in the current race to defend her seat in the House, Joe John, has notably been tarred with the brush of hiding the ball from the public while Mr. John ran the now notorious SBI Crime Lab from 2010 to 2014. As director of the SBI Crime Lab, according to court papers filed with the N.C. Superior Court in a recent civil case, Mr. John brusquely tossed aside a blue-ribbon report by the lab’s accrediting agency that found a lab analyst’s case file woefully short on support for a lab report and in-court testimony in a highly-visible criminal case.
John not only was in the mix of decision-makers with Attorney General Roy Cooper at the North Carolina Department of Justice who consciously hid the accrediting agency’s report from public view for more than a year, but Mr. John in open court also had the gall to brand the national accrediting agency’s report a “CYA” effort.
Therefore, the choice for voters could not be clearer. Either it’s Mr. John and his checkered history of hiding the ball from the public. Or return Rep. Avila to the House of Representatives to continue her work as a beacon for public trust and the right to know. The vote will determine the future of government transparency in North Carolina for a long time to come.