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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Paper trail lacking in state's litterbug reports

Posted by on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 5:43 PM

The N.C. Department of Transportation is touting the success of its Swat-a-Litterbug program, announcing it received more than 11,700 littering reports in 2009—a 20 percent increase over 2008, according to a press release:  2010-1-05-swat-a-litterbug.

There's a problem, though: There are no records to support that contention. The original littering reports include the vehicle's license plate number, date and time of the incident, street name, city, county and a description of the offense. However, after the alleged litterbug receives a letter from the NCDOT informing him or her of the offense, the record—the letter to the offender and the report itself—is destroyed or purged from the system, according to NCDOT spokesman George Kapetanakis.

Kapetanakis was responding to an Independent Weekly open records request seeking the contents of the 11,700 reports.

Without the records, it is impossible to analyze the programs results: verifying the number of reports, analyzing the types of offenses and detecting geographical or other patterns.

Under the program, the public can call a litterbug hotline (1-877-DOT-4YOU) and anonymously report motorists whom they have seen littering. The litterbugs are sent a letter notifiying them that they were seen littering and informs them it is an illegal and fineable offense. Fines for littering range from $250 to $2,000 and can include a point on the offender’s driver license, as well as community service work.

Kapetanakis said no one has been fined under Swat-a-Litterbug because it is an educational program intended to raise awareness about littering. NCDOT receives 30 to 70 reports a day, he said, primarily about people tossing cigarette butts out their car windows.

Ironically, Gov. Beverly Perdue emphasized transparency and accountability in state government during her first year in office. The governor's Web site reads: “Only when the doors of government are open wide, and the sun truly shines in, can we be sure that our government by the people is working for the people."

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