As much as we'd all like to think public officials will always be honest, it simply isn't the case. That fuels today's widespread distrust of government.
And unfortunately, efforts to make government in South Carolina more open go in fits and starts.
Take, for example, autopsy reports. The coroner in Sumter County refused to release to The (Sumter) Item an autopsy report of a man shot by police as they searched for a carjacking suspect.
The official reason?
The coroner calls himself a health care provider and contends the records are thereby private.
But as South Carolina Press Association attorney Jay Bender said, coroners only treat dead people.
So The Item obtained the coroner's report from another source, and, sure enough, it didn't comport with what investigators had said.
The state Supreme Court is considering The Item vs. Sumter County coroner case.
A lower court ruled that autopsies were not covered under the Freedom of Information Act, and therefore, did not have to be made public.
If that ruling stands, the public might never find out what really happened to someone shot by a police. It would bind the hands of watchdogs searching for the truth.
Autopsy reports have been a tricky subject nationally. The Associated Press reported that 15 states allow their release. About six others allow the release of those not being used in a criminal investigation. The rest severely restrict or withhold information from autopsy reports.
Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, said public officials are becoming bolder about breaking the state's open records laws. They try to deter people by charging them large sums to provide information, or even decline the request out of hand.
A bill filed in the Legislature would limit what can be charged for records and prohibit agencies for charging when records are available digitally.
That shouldn't raise red flags with anyone, but a similar bill struggled last year.
It's all the more reason for advocates to speak up for more open, transparent government that allows the public to see what elected officials are doing and how they are spending tax dollars.
Autopsy reports contain detailed information that can support or undermine what the public is being told.
They are not medical records. They are public records.
And the public in South Carolina has a right to know what officials know about those reports.
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