COLUMBIA - Public bodies in South Carolina such as city and county councils no longer have to publish agendas before their regular meetings and can add to the list of items they plan to discuss or vote on any time during those meetings, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
Open government advocates said the ruling this week disrupts standard practices that have been followed by public bodies for years. They urged governments to keep printing agendas in fairness so the public will know in advance what will be discussed by their elected representatives.
"This could lead to terrible abuse of items being put on the agenda at the last minute and the public not knowing about them," said South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers.
The Municipal Association of South Carolina filed a brief in support of Saluda County's successful challenge of the agenda requirement. It is telling cities to keep publishing agendas because they help the public know what is happening and help council members prepare for meetings.
"The best practice is in the interest of public information and transparency to not change the current practices," said Municipal Association spokeswoman Reba Campbell.
Rogers said the Press Association will ask lawmakers when they come back into session in January to change the law to require agendas.
The ruling came from a lawsuit by someone upset that the Saluda County Council added discussion of its water system to the agenda during a December 2008 meeting. The suit turned into a question about whether agendas were required at all.
The justices ruled that South Carolina's Freedom of Information act requires agendas be posted for specially called meetings. But they said a phrase in the law makes regularly scheduled meetings different.
A portion of the law reads: "Agenda, if any, for regularly scheduled meetings must be posted."
The justices ruled "if any" means the law did not require an agenda.
The decision Wednesday overturned an appeals court ruling that not publishing agendas would violate the spirit of South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act.
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