Tag: Freedom of Information

Who are the Real Thugs in Horry County?

The above cartoon by Ed Wilson depicts the now famous incident that resulted in Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus calling police and fire fighters in the county “thugs.”

Lazarus called them thugs because several first responders asked him tough questions at the Burgess Community Forum last week, then, heckled Lazarus as he walked out of the meeting.

The use of the word “thug” by Lazarus was ridiculous because its normal definition refers to violent, criminal type behavior none of which was in evidence at the forum.

The term “thugs” was also given to anti-war protesters during the 1960’s and anti-nuclear protesters throughout the western democracies in the 1970’s.

I would submit the term “thug” can also be applied to those in government who use their position and power to bully people or ignore the law to achieve desired results.

For example, after Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones request for an additional person in her office was denied by a combination of council members and the county administrator, Jones filed suit to gain the position.

The county’s response to the lawsuit was to attack Jones’ credibility and performance personally, a typical bully (thug) type of response.

Early this year, several council members said Lazarus was not going to intervene to attempt to help settle the case amicably, but was willing to let it go to court for resolution.

When Jones walked out of a council meeting after the discussion ventured into the area of her lawsuit, Lazarus was quite critical with several derogatory comments aimed at Jones. However, when discussion at a political forum entered into an area that made Lazarus uncomfortable, he had no problem walking out.

Does anyone else find that hypocritical?

However, that attitude appeared to change after Johnny Gardner filed to challenge Lazarus for the Republican nomination for county council chairman and it was apparent Jones had significant support from the public for her lawsuit.

Budgets - Cuts, Spending and You

Beaufort County Court Decision Could Impact MBACC

A recent court decision in Beaufort County could have an interesting impact in Myrtle Beach.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles ruled the Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce must allow public access to information regarding how the chamber spends public funds under the provisions of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Law.

Hilton Head businessman Skip Hoagland brought a lawsuit for access to the chamber’s records of how public funds are spent. At issue were the accommodations tax monies that the chamber receives from the towns of Hilton Head and Bluffton as well as Beaufort County and grant money from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

The Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce argued its records were not subject to FOIA requests since it is a private, non-profit organization.

In his ruling, Nettles noted the SC Freedom of Information Law defines, “any organization, corporation or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds,” as a public body.

Nettles also noted that while the chamber provides a budget and accounting summary of how those funds are spent, neither provides specific information on, for example, vendors used.

The MBACC receives approximately $5 million per year from City of Myrtle Beach accommodations tax collections and approximately $22 million per year from the city’s one-cent tourism sales tax. In addition, the MBACC receives approximately $6 million from Horry County accommodations tax collections and approximately $5 million or more annually from SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism grants.

The MBACC uses those funds for “out-of-area” tourism marketing. Through the years, the MBACC has been criticized by non-members for giving preferential treatment in its marketing efforts to chamber members even though public funds are being used to fund them.

More Freedom of Information in South Carolina?

A S.C. House Ethics and Freedom of Information Act Study Committee will recommend legislation that could make government information more open to request.

The committee is proposing to put a time limit on the production of public documents of between 30-35 days after an FOIA request is agreed to.

However, like everything regarding public information in South Carolina, there is a hitch. After two free hours of work on producing the documents, a public agency would be able to charge the citizen requesting the documents up to $100 per hour for the time needed to fulfill the FOIA request.

Ethics Reform – Not So Fast

S.C. Ethics Commission Limits Freedom of Information

Earlier this week, the S.C. Ethics Commission moved to restrict information flow to the media from agency personnel.

An announced new policy limits press inquiries and responses to Executive Director Herb Hayden taking the ethics commission attorney and deputy director out of the loop.

The new policy was announced by S.C. Ethics Commission chairman James Burns, a Gov. Nikki Haley appointee, during a commission meeting.

S.C. Ethics Reform? – Don’t Bet On It

The South Carolina Commission on Ethics Reform, appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley late last year, released its recommendations to tighten state ethics laws Monday.

Some of the recommendations should be considered no-brainers, such as: (1) Disclosing all private sources of income, and identifying all “fiduciary” positions, or positions of trust, held, whether compensated or uncompensated; (2) banning leadership PAC’s; (3) expanding the definition of lobbyists and lobbyists principals and increasing their annual fee and (4) strengthening public corruption laws.

It would seem that number (1) with regard to sources of income would be the most important. From outside interests of lawmakers and other public officials corruption generally rises. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for that provision to become law.

No Freedom of Information in S.C.

Despite the state freedom of information law requiring public records be released to persons requesting them at the “lowest possible cost,” such is hardly ever the case in South Carolina.

Public agencies whose ethically challenged politicians and appointed public officials excel in backroom deals, conflicts of interest and downright gouging of the public purse are not about to turn over information to the public that could possibly shed light on these activities.

Earlier this year, when S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis tried to get investment records from the S.C. Retirement Systems Investment Commission, of which Loftis is a commissioner, the good ole boys tried to get him thrown off the commission board.

SC Ranks Worst in Freedom of Information

SC Ranks Worst in Freedom of Information

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.