When five Folly Beach City Council members meet at the city police department to discuss a lawsuit against the council — or a zoning issue or a beer ban on the beach — the public has an interest in what happens.
City Council should understand that. But apparently at least five members aren’t altogether clear on the necessity of following the state’s Freedom of Information Act in every instance.
On July 23, all but one member of City Council — a clear quorum — attended a secret meeting at the police department. The meeting was not advertised at least 24 hours in advance as state law requires. Indeed, it was not advertised at all.
And when a Folly Beach citizen attempted to sit in on the meeting, he was ordered to leave and escorted out by a police officer.
It shouldn’t matter that the citizen was Bob Linville, former mayor and former council member. But Mr. Linville knows about the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, and he knew he had a right to attend.
Council attorney Sandy Senn, who was at the meeting, contends it was not public at all — only members of council seeking legal advice about their individual situations as related to the lawsuit.
But the city’s insurance carrier was picking up the tab for Ms. Senn’s legal services, and S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender says that makes it qualify as a meeting.
This isn’t the first FOIA complaint City Council has fielded recently. Councilman Eddie Ellis alleged that Folly City Council held secret meetings to draft a resolution censuring him and ousting him as mayor pro-tem.
Watching government work can be like watching sausage made. It’s not pretty. But people have a right to know what’s going into their government (and their sausage). Elected officials have a duty to keep them informed.
And toward that end, they should know the basic elements of open government. They should know what constitutes a quorum, and what constitutes a legal meeting by an elected council.
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