Among the details that the city of Charlotte thought were worth keeping secret about the upcoming Democratic National Convention: what color to paint a new police command center; the location of fire and building inspectors at Time Warner Cable Arena, and a squabble between police and federal authorities over when to hold a meeting.
Last fall, the Observer requested six months of emails by some city officials related to the convention. The city released heavily blacked-out emails, some with entire paragraphs redacted.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann this week released a statement that said many redactions went too far. Some redacted information, it said, “cannot fairly be considered ‘sensitive public security information’ and is not otherwise exempt” from being released under N.C. public records law.
The city, however, didn’t apologize.
“While the city’s initial review may be viewed as having been too conservative, the cold hard fact is that there are those that are looking for every advantage in achieving their goal of disrupting and doing harm during the convention,” the statement said “The city does not apologize for being vigilant in attempting to thwart such efforts.”
The emails run through October 2011, when the city was gearing up for the convention, which will be held in early September.
The Observer questioned the city’s redactions after reviewing an exchange of emails between Mecklenburg Chief District Judge Lisa Bell and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe. The Observer had obtained the original emails.
Parts of the exchange between Bell and Monroe had been blacked out.
On Aug. 25, 2011, Bell emailed Monroe, saying she continued to get questions about what courts will be running during the convention.
One of her sentences had been redacted. It read: “I have heard from various persons within each of your organizations that the federal authorities you are working with expect that courts will be shut down completely.”
Monroe’s entire three-sentence response was originally blacked out. It said: “We need to discuss internally. It is not our intent to request a shut down of the Courts. Give me a couple of days to discuss with staff, thanks.”
Monroe then forwarded the exchange to Deputy Chief Harold Medlock, who is heading up CMPD’s convention security.
He wrote: “Let’s talk.”
That also had originally been blacked out.
Bell wondered what was so top secret about her email that a portion had to be redacted.
The unredacted emails don’t deal with sensitive issues such as the local host committee’s fundraising and they don’t discuss plans to seal off parts of uptown.
One exchange, from last September, was a discussion about the paint color for a new CMPD command center uptown.
Monroe received an email from a police officer that included a “high resolution photo of the colors ... selected for the Command Center and conference rooms. ... Please let me know if these colors don’t work for you.”
That exchange had previously been blacked out.
City Attorney Hagemann said Tuesday the emails were first reviewed by a team of city staff members and staff members from his office. They decided what to approve for public release.
The city’s second look at the emails, started in March, and Hagemann declined to say who was involved in the second examination.
“There were more people involved the second time,” he said.
Monday’s statement said “striking a balance between the public’s legitimate right to know and the government’s paramount duty to protect the public from real world threats can be difficult.”
Other emails dealt with police purchases for the convention. Charlotte will receive a $50 million federal security grant for the DNC, with up to $25 million being spent on police equipment.
For instance, vendors hope to sell CMPD new equipment for the convention. The city, in its second review, allowed some of that information to become public, though the name and type of equipment remained redacted.
In June, Medlock chided a Secret Service official over scheduling a meeting when he couldn’t attend.
“If you had bothered to let me know you wanted to hold the meeting, I could have told you that CMPD has a major event on Thursday and that our operations will begin with briefings which will overlap the Public Affairs meeting, which will require me and others to leave the meeting early,” Medlock wrote.
That entire section had been previously blacked out.
In a Sept. 21, 2011 email, U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins wrote Monroe about security training.
“Each year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is required by the Department to conduct an office-wide security training event to ensure that we are prepared to deal with significant events that may occur within our district,” Tompkins wrote. “Given the rapidly approaching DNC Convention, it is even more important this year that we prepare ourselves as well as possible to deal with a variety of contingencies.”
But more than half of Tompkins’s email was blacked out.
The city has now made public much of it, including:
“On September 28 (next Wednesday), we are conducting a day long table top exercise with US Attorney’s Office security personnel and certain agency representatives...,” Tompkins wrote. “We will begin at 9:30 am and the training will take most of the day, with some breaks.”