We’re glad to see that work sessions of Camden City Council will be recorded from this point on; the change was made after council member Willard Polk requested clarification on the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Jay Bender, the pre-eminent FOI expert in South Carolina, said work sessions, even though official votes aren’t taken, constitute a meeting under the statute’s provisions and that such sessions should be subject to the law. City Attorney Charles Cushman had earlier opined that work sessions didn’t fall under the purview of the state’s FOI Act because they were merely “administrative in nature” and decisions weren’t made by vote. But after reviewing the law, he changed his mind.
By the letter of the law, “meetings” occur when a quorum of public officials is present, and it doesn’t matter whether they take formal votes or not. Work sessions certainly fall under that regulation. We’ve always believed -- and we think most taxpayers share this -- that the more open environment in which public business is conducted, the better off the public is. We’re a bit apprehensive about using the word “transparent” because it has become so overworked, but that’s actually what council’s deliberations and discussions should be. There is some feeling now among some at the city that work sessions should be eliminated altogether and all business should be discussed at length in council’s regularly scheduled meetings. Either way is OK, as long as recordings or minutes are made and the public is kept informed.
The minutiae of council meetings can be painfully detailed, but it is better to err on the side of openness. We don’t believe council members have had any intent to bypass the state’s FOI Act, but this ruling will ensure that John Q. Public will be well served.