Thursday, February 20, 2020

Richland 2 Agendas

There was a time, not too long ago, that the Richland 2 School Board published the agenda for its next meeting on the Thursday afternoon before the Tuesday meeting.

Doing so allowed the public and the media to examine the items on the agenda and time to prepare its inquiries.

Now it seems that the District has decided to just barely meet the legal requirement of 24 hours before the start of the meeting. Since the Executive Session starts at 5:30PM on Tuesday, this requires the District to publish the agenda no later than 5:30PM on the Monday before the meeting.

Occasionally, the District will publish the agenda at the end of the day on Friday. Since District offices are closed on week-ends, one cannot call for information or supporting documents.

The agenda is not to be changed within 24 hours of the start of the meeting. This law is not always followed. Recently, the District added a link for a multi-page, complex Resolution to the agenda just as the open meeting was starting at 6:30PM.

And the agenda is curently being changed during the meeting, when the staff secretary adds information, decisions and votes as they happen during the meeting.

I have raised the question about the legality and appropriateness of adding such informaiton to the agenda during the meeting. Two written inquiries have gone unanswered, plus an oral inquiry.

The right place of information and action taken at a meeting is in the Minutes of the meeting, not in the agenda itself.

So far, there has been no response from the Board to my written inquiry. It's my belief that the District's attorney will advise them to discontinue that practice. But I wonder whether the question has even been posed to the attorney.

The only way for a private individual to challenge the District on legal matters is to go to court.

In Illinois there was an Office of Public Access Counselor (PAC), which was part of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. When a public body violated a FOIA law or an Open Meetings law or denied a FOIA request, in whole or in part, the member of the public could file a Request for Review with the Public Access Counselor. The PAC could order the public body to comply, but the law didn't have any teeth in it. The PAC could not force the public body to comply. That was up to a court.

I watched an online newspaper publisher take a sheriff's department to the mat over withheld information. It took over a year in court. The publisher won, and his attorney collected about $100,000 in fees.

That doesn't exist in South Carolina, because the People have not demanded that the legislature create it. The legislature is perfectly happy to leave the public defenseless against public bodies (e.g., School Districts, City Councils, County Councils, etc.) unless the member of the public has deep pockets for affording the law suit and all the resulting legal challenges.