HICKS COLUMN: Sunshine law is your protector
South Carolina State University hasn't been a very sunny place lately.
It's had missing money and fired a number of high-level officials without a word as to why. Officials didn't even want to release President George Cooper's evaluation. Since he's leaving at the end of the month, you have to figure it wasn't great.
Then last month the university thumbed its nose at the state's Freedom of Information Act once again. At a Board of Trustees meeting, Vice Chairman John Corbitt announced that the panel would go into executive session -- which means the public and reporters have to leave -- to discuss "personnel and legal advice."
Diane Knich, The Post and Courier's higher-education reporter, did what any reasonable citizen should -- she asked what the session was about.
"The law requires you to be more specific," she said.
Corbitt sat for a second before saying simply, "No ... No."
Like a lot of people, Corbitt clearly doesn't know the law.
A public right
All this week, the newspaper has been running stories with a "Sunshine Week" logo.
That denotes articles written using public records that reporters obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. For some people, this might seem like a high-minded journalistic crusade, but it's really about the public's right to know.
If a reporter can't get this information, you think an average citizen can walk into a government office and get it?
The FOIA applies to any institution that gets taxpayer money. The people pay the bills, so they have a right to know how their money is being spent. Yet many government agencies don't seem to get that. Some bureaucrats get a sense of entitlement, and view requests for information as a nuisance, if not harassment.
Perhaps they should look at it this way: If S.C. State officials or, say, some local police department, feels they have the right to withhold information, perhaps taxpayers should withhold their money.
There ought to be a law.
Sunshine is another word for "transparency," which has been a recent political catchphrase.
It got Nikki Haley elected governor, which is funny since she has a spotty record on the issue. Remember all those deleted emails, not to mention using personal email accounts to skirt FOIA?
Haley is by no means the only official to fail to let the sun shine in. On Sunday, the newspaper recounted the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce tormenting reporters with Billy Ray Cyrus music in a hot warehouse as they attempted to dig through the organization's records. That's just arrogant.
There is an old saying that it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. Well, in this case the cover-up is a crime.
Government organizations need to realize that withholding information from the public is not only illegal, it only makes matters worse for them.
It's just common sense. Any place where the sun doesn't shine is, by definition, shady.