GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Businessman Eric Robert, one of four candidates for mayor of Greensboro, is suing the city for what he terms as “dragging its heels” on responding to public records he has requested about the cessation of gun shows at the Greensboro Coliseum.
In what Robert calls a “civil action” filed April 8, he asks for an immediate hearing in Guilford County Superior Court because they believe the city has violated public records laws by not providing the information requested in a timely manner.
The complaint describes Robert as a “mayoral candidate and proprietor of Dang! News and Record, an investigative local news and opinion outlet covering North Carolina, Guilford County and the City of Greensboro.” The blog’s last post was in March of 2016.
The suit names Mayor Nancy Vaughan and City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba, but in a press release Robert also cites the City Council and one of its members, Justin Outling, who also is running for mayor in a four-person primary that includes former judge Mark Cummings.
Robert’s complaint addresses records requests dating back to April 5, 2021, in which Robert asked about the city’s consideration of a way to avoid having gun shows on city property, which his suit suggests is not legal
In 2018, Vaughan had suggested the city no longer allow guns to be sold on city property as a response to the mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida. Then-City Attorney Tom Carruthers told City Council that it could not prevent gun shows under state law. But his successor, Chuck Watts, determined in 2020 that programming decisions at the Greensboro Coliseum were the purview of Coliseum Managing Director Matt Brown. Through a series of maneuvers, the city took control of the gun show and has not staged it since.
Robert’s suit details most of those steps and seeks all the historical communication about those decisions. The suit describes the city’s response as “patterns and practices of delay, obfuscation, non-responsiveness, foot-dragging and stonewalling.”
Robert said in his release that he “obtained a few emails and draft memos from 2 city attorneys exploring opinions and suggestions on how to circumvent State and federal legislations as Municipalities, simply, do not possess the authority to regulate the sales of firearms. [sic]
“I received a few of Email from Matt Brown to various individual council members, some to their private email addresses, but the provided emails had the header with no text…the text was not redacted as it is typically with large black lines, it was deleted altogether.”
Vaughan, who notes that as mayor she is named in legal proceedings that don’t have anything to do with her, told WGHP that Robert’s request is “complicated.” She said that the request involves emails that “get legal review before they go out. We respond to thousands of requests a year. Some take more time.”
Outling in an email referred to Watts for comment from the city. In a statement provided by a city spokesperson, Watt said, “We don’t comment on matters in litigation.”
The city tracks public records requests through a system called PIRT, which allows those requests to be followed as they move through the system. Vaughan said more than 11,000 requests have been closed since that system was implemented.
Robert’s action cites numerous PIRT entries that most recently include a response from administrator Kurt Brenneman on March 31 that says the request is “awaiting response from Coliseum; awaiting review of emails by legal.”
Robert says in the suit that the city doesn’t have the right to regulate gun shows, based on statutes originally cited by Carruthers, and that he is seeking to understand how the city worked around this statute.
“What if tomorrow, Mayor Nancy Vaughan and her cohort decided they did not like the first amendment, what if they, all of the sudden, decided we needed to do away with the thirteenth or fourteenth amendments or any of the 27 for that matter…such obvious attempt to bypass the US Constitution sets a very dangerous precedent for us as a municipality and for us as a country,” Robert said in the release.
His suit says the delay in response is a “willful attempt to conceal Matt Brown correspondence [sic] as it would clearly support the plaintiff’s claims of city’s interference with Mr. Brown’s authority and constitute an attempt at regulating gun shows in violation of state law.”