By Paul Gable
South Carolina continues to stand out in the negative as it ranked dead last among the 50 states in access to public government information in a study done by the Center for Public Integrity.
This comes on top of a ranking, by the same organization, of 45 out of 50 for public corruption risk several months ago.
None of the 50 states received an A as Connecticut ranked number one with a B+. Nearly half, 23 out of 50, received an F for freedom of information. In dealings we have had with freedom of information at the federal level, it’s hard to imagine the federal government would receive a grade above F also.
Sadly, hiding information about the workings of government, or putting up significant roadblocks for access to it, has become the norm in America.
Our founding fathers knew an informed public was necessary for democracy to be successful. This is why freedom of the press was one of the most important tenets in the Bill of Rights.
How can the public be informed when our governments strive so hard to hide information from it? This is especially true for information about corruption, bad decisions, questionable deals and even honest mistakes.
But the goal is to keep the public uninformed in South Carolina. The report mentioned excessive costs for public records and a weak legal structure to obtain them as two major problems.
“The Palmetto State is faulted for a weak legal structure, including the absence of a formal appeals process when the state denies access. Indeed, the only appeal to a denial is to sue the state, a risky proposition which is both time-consuming and expensive.”
There is also the much abused use of executive session which is a favorite of government at all levels. Whenever public agencies want to limit information about controversial issues, they retreat behind closed doors. There they can receive briefings and hold discussions that could be politically damaging if conducted in open session. If the public only knew!
But the public doesn’t know and the politicians’ efforts to keep things that way are extremely successful in South Carolina. As long as the public doesn’t demand change to the law and much better access to public information, South Carolina will continue to rank at or near the bottom in all areas of good government.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
Link to Center for Public Integrity report: http://www.stateintegrity.org/flawed_open_records_laws_limit_public_access_to_state_government