Opening a new chapter in the controversy over the repeal of the Outer Banks’ plastic bag ban, a Kitty Hawk resident has filed suit in Wake County Superior Court to compel State Representative Beverly Boswell to release records of her correspondence related to that legislation.
The local ban on plastic bags was officially repealed on Oct. 4 when the North Carolina General Assembly overrode Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that included the repeal. Despite vocal opposition from Dare County, its municipalities and the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, Boswell and State Sen. Bill Cook were staunch supporters of the repeal measure.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit filed on Jan. 25, Craig Merrill, is a prominent advocate for the bag ban. Merrill says that he tried on more than a dozen occasions over roughly a nine-month period to request records of the correspondence between Boswell’s office and the residents and businesses she represents, but none were forthcoming.
He told the Sentinel that in seeking those records, he was “trying to understand the driving force behind the drive to repeal the single-use bag ban. I wanted to understand what her motivation and logic was.”
Chris Brook, the Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, which is representing Merrill in the suit, said the efforts to obtain Boswell’s correspondence fall under the state’s public records law.
“North Carolina statutes are very clear that public records are the property of the people of North Carolina,” he said. “The North Carolina legislature decided long ago that we were going to have a robust public records law in this state.”
When contacted by the Sentinel, Boswell’s legislative assistant, Beth Strandberg, said the office would have no comment on an “ongoing legal” situation.
Merrill said that at one point during his attempts to contact Boswell, Strandberg responded to him, and “referred to limitations on the open records law that, in my opinion, did not apply to my request.”
As far as the impact of the bag ban repeal in Dare County goes, when the Sentinel checked late last year, local Food Lion stores, as well as Wal-Mart in Kitty Hawk, were only offering paper bags, while Harris Teeter was giving customers the option of paper or plastic.