S.C. Court of Appeals Sides with 'Openness' in Public Meetings
By Sarita Chourey
Morris News Service
June 14, 2012 — COLUMBIA -- The S.C. Court of Appeals overturned a circuit court decision Wednesday, siding with a citizen who challenged the Saluda County Council's adherence to the Freedom of Information Act.
Dennis Lambries had sued the Saluda County Council, charging that its practice of amending its agenda during regularly scheduled meetings violated the FOIA. But the circuit court ruled against him and said public bodies weren't required to have an agenda for regularly scheduled meetings, and noted that the council made amendments to the agenda in open public sessions.
In his appeal, heard March 15, Lambries said that interpretation undercut the purpose of FOIA to inform the public about business to be addressed at meetings of public bodies.
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals sided with Lambries.
In Wednesday's decision, Judge Danny Pieper dissented, writing that "the statute is completely silent as to whether a public body can amend an agenda that is not required for a regularly scheduled meeting."
He also said Lambries had not been hurt by the council's actions.
The council, wrote Pieper, "did not infringe on Lambries' ability to learn and report fully on the activities of the public officials.
"While the public was not informed of the amendment to the agenda, the meeting was performed in an open and public manner, and the public was advised of both the meeting and the decisions reached at the meeting."
The majority opinion, however, quoted a state attorney general's opinion that urged public bodies to err on the side of openness when their actions were in doubt.
"We recognize our decision may be inconvenient in some instances, but the purpose of FOIA is best served by prohibiting public bodies governed by FOIA from amending their agendas during meetings," reads the Court of Appeals reversal on Wednesday.
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