Officials in the town of Surfside Beach, S.C. unlawfully removed a reporter from a public meeting last week, a flagrant violation of the Palmetto State’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws.
Anita Crone, a reporter with South Strand News, was forced by local law enforcement to leave a public meeting held last Friday at the town’s fire department headquarters.
“Ma’am, it’s a closed meeting and you are not welcome in this meeting,” the town’s police sergeant told Crone, according to her paper’s report. “Please leave now – get out.”
The meeting in question involved the town’s administrator, its finance director and a paid financial adviser. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss options for rebuilding the town’s pier – which remains in terrible shape after being severely damaged by Hurricane Matthew last year.
Bill Rogers of the S.C. Press Association (SCPA) referred to Surfside’s heavy-handed treatment of Crone as “an illegal attempt to circumvent the state’s Freedom of Information Act.”
He’s 100 percent correct.
“Given the subject matter of the meetings related to finances, this is an even more egregious violation of the public’s trust,” Rogers added. “There are no exemptions to openness to discuss financial matters … this is public money we are talking about. The public has a need and right to hear the discussion.”
Indeed they do …
Not only do we condemn Surfside Beach for its unlawful exclusion the media from a public meeting, we reject everyday efforts by public bodies to conduct the people’s business behind closed doors via the abuse of “executive session” exemptions.
Our bottom line? Barring a legitimate national security or public safety situation, there is never a reason for a taxpayer-funded entity to conduct its dealings under lock and key. Ever.
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