First, let me show you the public records request I submitted on 8 September 2023.
The request goes to my attempts to find out what happened to the headstones removed from Vick Cemetery circa 1995-96. My 2019 records request to the City yielded nothing helpful. The calls by me and others for an investigation into their disappearance has fallen on deaf ears. I’ve heard bits and pieces though. Second-hand and third-hand accounts of their removal and storage in a city warehouse, possibly near Maplewood Cemetery. A recent rumor describes the warehouse being damaged or flooded during a hurricane, perhaps Floyd, perhaps some other.
I screenshot this image from the Wilson County GIS website.
It shows the “city lot” adjacent to Maplewood. The superimposed blue shaded area is the “Flood Hazards” layer. There are faint outlines that appear to have been left by demolished buildings. Is this flood-vulnerable area where the headstones were stored? Or were they in some altogether different location?
My public records request is an attempt to determine where the headstones were and when and h0w they left the City’s custody. In the total absence of information from the folks charged with caring for these relics, I crafted my request in the broadest terms.
Here’s what City Manager Grant Goings had to say about that:
A few thoughts:
(1) No, Mr. Goings. Not “one individual.” I’m seeking the truth as a descendant of the dead of Vick Cemetery and a representative of everyone who wants to see a terrible wrong righted.
(2) In other words, we are too busy trying to get the Mudcats to come to Wilson to go on wild-goose chases for dusty documents related to embarrassing chapters in recent city history?
(3) “It is unfortunate that the law allows an individual to use up so many tax-payer resources and further harm the City by taking so many hours of staff time away from current opportunities.” North Carolina has had a Public Records Act since 1935. What’s “unfortunate” is that the highest-ranking administrative manager of the City of Wilson views as a nuisance a law fundamental to good governance and an informed public.
(4) “One (non-resident) attorney.” I was born and raised in Wilson. I don’t have to prove my bona fides to anybody at City Hall. Moreover, anyone may make a public records request.
(5) I’ve responded to FOIA requests in my day. If we received one that seemed overly broad or vague or burdensome, we would contact the requestor to ask a few questions aimed at clarifying or narrowing the scope of the request. Simple as that. In fact, both the City Attorney and the City Clerk have reached out to me before concerning requests I’ve submitted. One time resulted in my withdrawal of the request. The second time resulted in a fine-tuning of the request to make more clear the information I was seeking. I have to assume that Grant Goings understands how public records requests work. Why he chooses to cavil and complain to council rather than contact me for clarity is a question only he can answer. As soon as I read his email, however — or, rather, as soon as I picked my jaw up off the floor — I emailed the City Attorney and others: “Mr. Cauley, given Mr. Goings’ concerns about my exercise of rights afforded under NC law, if there are questions about the scope of any request I submit, including that submitted on September 8, please let me know and I will do my best to clarify or even narrow said request.”