State treasurer addresses Council of State transparency during monthly call

State Treasurer Dale Folwell

RALEIGH — During his monthly Ask Me Anything media briefing call, North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell addressed transparency issues with the Council of State (COS) and a recently enacted law strengthening the powers of the Local Government Commission (LGC). 

North State Journal asked Folwell about the lack of transparency of the Council of State. Folwell remarked that there was supposed to be a COS meeting that morning but it was canceled. 

Under the North Carolina Constitution, the COS is made up of 10 statewide elected officers including the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state auditor, commissioners of agriculture, insurance and labor, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction and treasurer. 

The N.C. Council of State, which resides under the executive branch of NC state government, lacks a dedicated website and is not listed among the state government agencies on the NC.GOV website. 

“The Council of State is a duly functioning elected body. It should have no less transparency or confidence than any city council, county commission or the legislature,” said Folwell.  

“The people of this state, during a COVID environment or non-COVID environment, when it comes to decisions being made about the things that are keeping them up at night – which is jobs, food, health and educational insecurity and uncertainty,” Folwell said. “They deserve not only to have a transparent Council of State in terms of how these Council of State members vote, but they need to have all the processes and procedures and transparency that exists in and is required in other levels of government.” 

According to state statutes going back to 1979, the COS wasn’t beholden to the state’s open meetings and public records laws but that exemption was changed sometime in 1991.  

Since taking office, Folwell has regularly attempted to create transparency on his own by live streaming COS meetings on his Facebook page.  

In his response to North State Journal, Folwell also referred to legislation filed during the short session. That legislation, however, remains in a committee as of June 29. Senate Bill 410, titled Open Meetings/Various Bd. Adj/Public Records, would align COS proceedings to match other government-related bodies in terms of complying with open meetings and following public records laws. 

For the public, finding the COS meeting announcements and any relevant information is no easy task. 

The N.C. Secretary of State is responsible for maintaining a calendar that includes COS meetings as well as posting the agenda for those meetings, however, one must first locate the public meetings calendar and know the date of the meeting in order to access the posted agenda. North State Journal accessed the agenda for the July 12 meeting but found it was simply a notice the meeting had been canceled with no description of what was supposed to be discussed.  

The N.C. State Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) also posts the agendas, but often after the fact. The most recent meeting agenda and meeting access links posted to OSBM are for June 2022.  As with the Secretary of State’s website, OSBM posts no meeting minutes, record of votes or meeting materials.  

North State Journal asked Folwell to expand on the recently signed law expanding the LGC’s abilities to oversee the financial health of cities and towns around the state. 

In his response, Folwell referred to Senate Bill 265, Bond Info Transparency/LGC Toolkit II. The bill was signed into law as Ch. SL 2022-53 on July 7 by Gov. Roy Cooper. 

“We are gratified this has become law,” said Folwell of Senate Bill 265. “Local governments are going to have to be more transparent, especially with significant events where things were done in these local communities and they did not report them to the Local Government Commission.” 

As an example, Folwell mentioned the situation in Spring Lake, where the LGC had taken control of the finances for the town last year after significant financial misconduct was discovered. In June of 2022, a former Spring Lake finance director was indicted on charges of embezzlement, bank fraud and identity theft related to the misappropriation of over a half-million dollars from the town. 

The new LGC toolkit law requires local governments to provide a statement of disclosures on estimated interest costs of the issuance of bonds and any estimated property tax rate changes related to the service of the proposed debt. Additionally, local government must file interim reports with the LGC on any incidents adversely affecting the financial health, operations, or internal controls of the unit.  

“This has been like an onion,” Folwell said of the increasing number of municipalities with financial issues. “We’ve had to come up with more tools and had to come up with a more refined toolkit to fix more things that were broken that we didn’t anticipate.” 

About A.P. Dillon 753 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_