The Supreme Court of South Carolina has ruled that the Town of Mt. Pleasant violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). Eight years ago, Steve Brock, a member of the Town’s Planning Commission and the president and general manager of a local television station, filed a complaint against the Town alleging numerous violations of FOIA and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.
Brock alleged that Town Council’s agendas were insufficient to give the public notice of actions that were taken following the executive sessions. More importantly, the Town Council used these vague agendas to conceal controversial decisions and limit the public’s ability to comment.
In ruling against the Town, the Court held that, “[A]fter the executive session concludes and the public body reconvenes in open session, any action taken or decision made must be properly noticed and, in the case of special meetings, such items may not exceed the scope of the purpose for which the meeting was called. In so ruling, we do not suggest that an agenda must specifically state the action to be taken; rather, it is sufficient for the agenda to reflect that, upon returning to open session, action may be taken on the items discussed during the executive session.”
The Court, providing additional guidance, stated that the “holding does not require the Town to list with specificity the actions it plans to take following an executive session; it only requires the Town give notice that some action may be taken. This gives Town Council the flexibility to act as may be discovered appropriate during executive sessions while ensuring the public receives notice Town Council may take such action.”
Maybe this ruling will provide strength to the public and remind public officials that it’s our interests they represent not theirs. Moreover, the people need facts and information before decisions are made not vague statements and deals finalized in the shadows.
As Abraham Lincoln said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any … crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”
What are your thoughts?
(To read the opinion, Brock v. Town of Mt. Pleasant, click here.)