SC

SC Supreme Court Issues Controversial Transparency Ruling

GOVERNMENTS FREE TO EVADE DISCLOSURE OF PUBLIC MEETINGS … Taxpayer-funded entities in South Carolina have been given broad latitude to evade the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) thanks to a new S.C. Supreme Court ruling on open meetings. According to the court’s ruling, state and local governing bodies are…

GOVERNMENTS FREE TO EVADE DISCLOSURE OF PUBLIC MEETINGS …

Taxpayer-funded entities in South Carolina have been given broad latitude to evade the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) thanks to a new S.C. Supreme Court ruling on open meetings.

According to the court’s ruling, state and local governing bodies are free to modify their public agendas whenever they choose – or refrain from submitting agendas altogether.  That puts citizens, reporters and taxpayer advocates at a serious disadvantage – and increases the likelihood state and local government bodies will employ secretive, anti-transparent methods when it comes to the most controversial items of taxpayer business.

“Nowhere in FOIA is there a statement that an agenda is required for regularly scheduled meetings,” the court ruled in the case, which originated in Saluda County. “Nor is there any restriction contained in FOIA on the amendment of an agenda.”

In 2008, Saluda County council modified its original agenda during a public meeting – prompting citizen Dennis N. Lambries to file a suit arguing that it had done so in violation of FOIA.

Lambries argued – correctly in our opinion – that government bodies should deviate from their published agendas only in “truly exigent circumstances” (i.e. the standard prescribed by a 1984 Attorney General’s ruling).

The Supreme Court disagreed …

“In the absence of such a legislative directive here, we decline to judicially impose a restriction on the amendment of an agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting, especially when it is clear that no agenda is required at all,” four of the justices concluded. “We find this is also the better public policy in light of the fact that a violation of FOIA can carry a criminal penalty.”

All five justices backed the decision, but only four signed their names to the majority opinion …

What’s the problem with this ruling?  Simple: If taxpayer-funded bodies are able to arbitrarily determine when and how they inform the public of their dealings – it reduces the ability of watchdogs to expose those dealings and hold them accountable for results.  South Carolina already ranks dead last in the nation when it comes to accessing public information – and the vast majority of its crony capitalism is already conducted in secret.

Do we really want to give government more freedom to hide things from the public view?

The court’s ruling concludes that state lawmakers have the sole authority to impose “any additional restrictions” to the state’s open government laws.  In that regard, it is correct.  In fact we sincerely hope those lawmakers working on ethics reform in anticipation of the upcoming 2015 session of the S.C. General Assembly take the court up on its invitation to impose such restrictions.

SUPREME COURT RULING (.pdf)

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23 comments

Jackie Chiles July 15, 2014 at 11:15 am

Just pass a law requiring an agenda.

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The Colonel July 15, 2014 at 11:23 am

No, that’d be to easy, we need a “blue ribbon panel” to study the problem and create subcommittees on agenda styles, agenda fonts, agenda paper…

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easterndumbfuckastan July 15, 2014 at 12:08 pm

All these years I’ve just been using the templates built in to Microsoft Office. Silly Me!

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/meeting-agenda-TC010169557.aspx

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shifty henry July 15, 2014 at 12:08 pm

…. and when to give Sic advance notice

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The Colonel July 15, 2014 at 12:26 pm

That’s an easy question, never.

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shifty henry July 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Time for this one again—

——————–

“Senator Bluster, what’s the election today for?”

“Well, it is to determine whether we shall have a convention to nominate delegates who will be
voted on as to whether they will attend a caucus which will decide whether we shall have a primary to determine whether the people want to vote on this same question again next year.”

Reply
Larry Bishop July 15, 2014 at 11:27 am

This is Nikki Haley and her high school staff right now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GwjfUFyY6M

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a face in the crowd July 15, 2014 at 11:49 am

Dangerous policy in a corrupt state.

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utah July 15, 2014 at 11:55 am

Will: I don’t disagree with your opinion re: posting agendas and modifying those agendas, but your blame is misplaced. The problem isn’t with the Court, but with the law the General Assembly passed. So many times people complain of judicial activism when courts create implied obligations or rights into clear legislation. Here, the Court simply interpreted the law as it is written. If the General Assembly disagrees, it is free to amend the statute to require agendas and to minimize the ability to amend those agendas.

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Ha Ha July 15, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Absolutely Correct?

Today was Kick the Supreme Court day here at Fits.Not that they often dont deserve kicking,but not on this decision.

Try again next week Fits.

Meanwhile contact Tom Davis or Kirk Findlay and tell them to change the law.

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Inciteful July 16, 2014 at 7:22 am

Well said. Things change between when an agenda is posted and when the following meeting happens. Reporters who don’t attend a meeting because a limp agenda are lazy. FOIA is not intended to support journalism, its intended to keep meetings and issues open to the public. This opinion doesn’t change that. Quitcherwhinin’

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GrandTango July 15, 2014 at 1:29 pm

I hate to chuckle at you, FITS. But you WHIFFED again. So much for pertinent commentary.

The media is least trusted of all. FITS is part of the problem.

The media must FOI itself. Read: http://scdigest.blogspot.com/

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What Bullshit July 15, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Go away, hack.

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Bible Thumper July 15, 2014 at 2:16 pm

What is lost in fits’ article is, what good does it do to have a FOIA or an agenda requirement if it takes six years to decide a case. In our Byzantine legal/judicial system that takes six years and who knows how much money does not offer much protection to the public no matter how good the law is. Anderson county is also involved in a case that has cost 3 million dollars and is six years old.

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Jackie Chiles July 15, 2014 at 2:20 pm

If cases were resolved as fast as you would like, your taxes would be higher and you’d be complaining about that.

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Bible Thumper July 15, 2014 at 2:35 pm

That’s totally inappropriate. It’s lewd, lascivious, salacious, outrageous!
It’s an infringement on my constitutional rights. It’s outrageous, egregious, preposterous.

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RHood2 July 15, 2014 at 2:39 pm

You put the balm on? Who told you to put the balm on? I didn’t tell you to put the balm on. Why’d you put the balm on? You haven’t even been to see the doctor. If your gonna put a balm on, let a doctor put a balm on.

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Bible Thumper July 15, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Do we have a chance? You get me one coffee drinker on that jury, you gonna walk outta there a rich man.

Beartrkkr July 15, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Props for the Jackie Chiles reference.

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RHood2 July 15, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Little late to the game on this ruling. It’s like so three weeks ago.
The problem here, for both you and the SC Press Association which has advocated this for a while and somehow got a Circuit Appeals Court ruling in its favor on it is that the judges are right. The law doesn’t say agenda cannot be amended, and as such, they can be amended out the ass.
The legislature needs to amend this and make it clear. I agree that it should say what we are advocating, but it just doesn’t.

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HD July 16, 2014 at 7:54 am

Is there “a problem” with the decision, or is it “correct?” You might want to sort that out before hanging out your internet lawyer shingle. (Pro-tip: the decision was the right one. It isn’t the place of the Court to read into a statute words that aren’t there for the purpose of substantively changing the operation of the statute to meet its own policy preference).

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Elfego July 16, 2014 at 12:06 pm

This does not even give members of the ruling body time to study a motion. This is absolutely stupid but what do you expect from this court?

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Cakalaki August 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm

There is nothing wrong with the ruling. It was correct and should be left alone. There are other protections in place, such as three readings for ordinances, public hearings on important items, and other protections. As long as the body votes in public and there is a record of what takes place there are no behind the curtain actions. FOIA does not grant right to “know what will happen”. It grants the right to report on what has happened and who did what and why. BIG DIFFERENCE.

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