Charleston County Aviation Authority met behind closed doors Thursday for more than an hour for “personnel” reasons without giving a specific reason, a violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
The Post and Courier objected, asking for more specificity, but the board voted 5-4 after the objection to enter into the closed session to get legal advice on the objection and to discuss a contractual issue.
The board, in open session, was about to take up the issue of hiring a deputy director to oversee terminal redevelopment, when former Judge Larry Richter, an airport board member, made the motion to go behind closed doors to discuss “personnel” matters.
Public bodies must give the specific reason for meeting in private. “Personnel” is not one of those reasons.
They may meet behind closed doors to discuss “employment, appointment, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, or release of an employee, student or a person regulated by a public body or the appointment of a person to a public body,” according to state law.
They cannot just say “personnel,” and they must give the specific reason for the closed-door session.
Richter asked airport attorney Arnold Goodstein for legal advice outside the presence of the press on the law.
That caused Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, an airport board member, to quip to Richter, “You were a judge. You should know the law.”
Only after the session was over did Goodstein state the reason for the private meeting was to talk about the proposed job for terminal redevelopment. They did not take any action on the position.
Airport Authority Chairman Andy Savage, along with board members Pat Waters, Elliott Summey and Michael Stavrinakis, voted against the closed meeting.
Afterward, Savage said he would try to communicate with board members better in the future beforehand to avoid a recurrence.
“I don’t believe in executive sessions,” he said, noting it was the first one on his watch since he became chairman in January. “I believe all of our business should be conducted in public.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect vote tally.