Last month, The News & Observer reported that North Carolina was the only state that did not qualify for $25 million in federal funding for rural transportation programs. The Federal Transportation Authority denied funding after an audit found the N.C. Department of Transportation deficient in 12 out of 21 areas of state responsibility to administer grants.
After the N&O story went to press, the FTA un-froze funding, pending the release of a management plan, and the Board of Transportation met to discuss the matter. But, in addition to addressing systematic problems within the Department of Transportation, several boardmembers focused on how, and how not, to spin those problems to the press. The N&O's Bruce Siceloff provides an alternative take on the meeting, with quotes from BOT members that should enrage anyone who cares about open government and accountability:
[BOT Boardmember Andrew] Perkins said that reporters’ inquries should be referred to a DOT spokesman, and that the messy details of DOT exchanges with the FTA should not be made public.
“There ought to be a way in which we can deal, when they come in with an FTA review or any federal review. And that stays within the department in terms of coordination between the federal agency and the department.
“And there is only one spokesman for that. It should only come out of the public relations area, and that be a de-sanitized version. Do not let yourself be manipulated to come up with something that’s inflammatory,” Perkins told [DOT Deputy Secretary for Transporation Roberto] Canales.
Canales was guilty, apparently, of answering a reporter's questions.
Perkins acknowledged that N.C. DOT's failure to receive funding, due to unpreparedness, was the "systematic problem" and "the horse outside the barn." But, he later identified an overriding "systematic issue" worthy of his board's attention:
“So the systemic issue is how do you control it before you let this barn door open?”
The barn door, of course, being public insight into the machinations of local government. Heaven forbid we shed light on the "de-sanitized version" of animals inside.
H/t BCR for the nod.