EDITORIAL: Keep non-profits on the up-and-up
The South Carolina Legislature in 2018 is going to consider a wrong-headed measure that would exempt not-for-profit groups that receive public money from some disclosures under the Freedom of Information Act.
We suspect this is a coastal issue, since Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Beaufort tourism-promotion agencies get a ton of local government money (designed to generate more money) and face inquiries from the public about how they are spending it.
Chambers of Commerce, we suspect, rarely make enough money to fire full-time people to keep up with these requests, and probably don’t think it’s the best use of resources.
Complying with the SC FOIA is not an easy task, if there is intense interest by people seeking to acquire documents. But we suspect it’s not as “cumbersome” as many agencies would lead us to believe. Openness breeds trust - agencies handling public money should want that trust.
In any event, H. 3931 is going to come up for consideration; and news media, which often use the FOIA, is not going to be allowed any more chances to speak about it in legislative hearings. Lawmakers, apparently, have all the information they need to consider, in the first week of the session starting in January (that’s five days from now), whether to exempt non-profit groups from some FOIA provisions. They should vote this proposal down, and here’s why.
Non-profits that spend public money could extend this “protection” to not providing the now-required 24 hours public notice of their meetings. Right now, it’s against state law for a public agency to add to its already announced agenda a new item about spending money. They can add items to their agenda - just not items that require them to spend the public’s money (or levy taxes) without the public knowing. In Laurens County, that possibly could mean we would not have a seat at the table when the Laurens County Development Board spends the $360,000 a year of your money it receives from the Laurens County Council. This money comes from fees-in-lieu-of-taxes that existing industries pay into the county coffers. The County Council does not have to give this money to LCDC - a majority of the members believe, however, this is the best source of industry recruitment money (as opposed to property taxes) and we certainly agree. How they spend this money should not be shielded from public view.
There is no indication that LCDC would stop announcing its board meetings in advance. But, they could - and, we suspect, if H. 3931 passes, agencies like the LCDC will - ask for “advice” and the people who advise them could say something like, “The new law allows you privacy, whether or not you take it is up to you.” It’s not a battle we want to fight - nor should we have to. It’s your money - they are spending it - we are watching them, end of story.
The people we get advice from, at the South Carolina Press Association, have sent us an alert saying, in part, “(H 3931) passed out of subcommittee last year and there will be no further testimony. As you can imagine, this would be a huge blow to transparency and knowing how public money is spent. Chambers of commerce, development corporations, museums, volunteer fire departments … the list of exemptions goes on. Millions of public dollars would fall into a black hole of accountability. We need your help in fighting this bill ....”
While we are referencing the Jan. 9, 2018, General Assembly opening day, let us make a brief statement about Senate Bill 449.
A leading local citizen has alerted us to this “open-carry of firearms” measure, and we are extremely concerned about it. Expect to hear more as we do further research.
State Rep. Mike Pitts has said people who want to, and qualify, can carry guns now - why further antagonize people who are concerned about gun violence by carrying in the open. We certainly agree - let’s assign “open carry” to the state legislature rejected file.