Friday, September 05, 2014

FOIA: Bill Rogers guest post

A guest post this week by the S.C. Press Association's Bill Rogers praising some school board members for having the backbone to walk out of a board meeting that might have been illegal.

As you read through consider the lawyer's comment, which brings to mind the retort, Well, if you'd stop practicing the law and actually become proficient at it ...

Lowcountry board members show guts to leave secret meeting they thought illegal

Bill Rogers

By Bill Rogers
Three school board members in the Lowcountry took a courageous step last week when they refused to attend an executive session they felt was illegal.

If more public officials refused to participate in improper or illegal secret meetings, we would have far more transparency in government.

The secret meeting was to view proposals to renovate an old school into district administration offices to the tune of $1.6 million.

So what is the need for secrecy? Shouldn’t the public be privy to this presentation and discussion?

The action by the three came when the Jasper County School Board held a called meeting to hear contractor presentations for proposed new district offices.

Board members Tedd Moyd and Debra Butler walked out of the meeting early.

Board member Randy Horton said he did not show up to the meeting after reading the agenda because he did not want to be a part of any illegal actions.

Moyd disagreed with the board holding the meeting in executive session as opposed to a public meeting for residents to be informed.

“It should have been a public meeting,” Moyd said. “…This is public education, why are we holding meetings like this in executive session? It makes us look like we’re hiding something,” he told a local newspaper reporter.

Mr. Moyd hits the nail on the head. Too often board members don’t stand up to school superintendents and their lawyers, many of whom have no appreciation of the concept of open government in our state.

School board attorney Kenneth L. Childs has expressed concern that encouraging citizen board members to not attend what they thought was an illegal meeting was “encouraging public officials not to perform their official duties.”

The opposite is true.

Let’s hope other school board and council members recognize they, as individuals, have a duty to obey the Freedom of Information Act and stand up for open government.

When that happens, the public wins.

Childs wrote to complain that I was giving school board members incorrect lay legal advice.

SCPA Attorney Jay Bender said, “To the contrary, Bill was giving much-needed civics advice  –  advice that many school board members never receive.”

We don’t need backroom politics and secrecy…we’ve had enough of that. Let the sun shine in.

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