MONCKS CORNER -- Berkeley County Council's new transparency subcommittee -- formed to press for more open government -- neglected a basic rule of transparency in its first meeting.
The group met Monday without inviting the public to attend.
The state's Freedom of Information Act requires committees, subcommittees and other advisory groups "by whatever name known" appointed by government bodies to hold open meetings that are advertised at least 24 hours in advance, S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender said.
"It's quite clear that this violated the law," Bender said. "The transparency committee violating the open meetings law -- that's wonderful."
County Attorney Nicole Ewing agreed that the media and the public should have been notified of the meeting in advance.
"If I had been asked prior to the meeting, I would have advised we need to comply with FOIA," Ewing said.
She attended the meeting and said they talked about what to include in a proposed online check registry, what salaries to post on the county's website and what needs to be done to allow meetings to be videotaped and broadcast on a cable channel.
Committee Chairwoman Cathy Davis, a council member, said she was following past precedent for study groups formed by council, such as a group that studied policies on county vehicles and another that studied pay issues. Those groups never advertised their meetings because they were considered informal study groups, she said.
"Nobody was trying to hide anything," she said. "I was just following a format we had used in the past."
Davis said she will advertise the next transparency committee meeting.
"Apparently it has caused a stir, so the next one will be publicly announced," she said.
The committee includes Davis, Councilman Dennis Fish, Finance Committee Chairman Jack Schurlknight and several staff members, including Ewing.