UNION — Instead of a regular meeting Monday evening, the Union County Board of School Trustees held a workshop regarding the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The workshop was conducted by Scott Price, General Counsel for the South Carolina School Board Association.
Much of what was discussed during the workshop was in reference to the board entering into executive session during a meeting. Price said to enter into executive session, the board must take public vote and state the specific purpose. He said voting is not allowed in executive session, and neither is polling members or committing to a course of action.
“Each of you has a responsibility to make sure this body stays on topic,” Price said. “The public needs to be confident that you’re not going into executive session and talking about everything under the sun. It’s illegal to go behind closed doors and discuss something other than what you went behind closed doors to discuss.”
Price said minutes must be kept for all public meetings, and they must be available to the public within a reasonable time. They must include date, time, place, members present/absent and substance of matters proposed, discussed or decided.
“I don’t know if you take minutes of executive session,” Price said. “The law doesn’t require it, and I don’t advise it.”
The subject of public comment during board meetings was also covered during the workshop.
“There is nothing in the law that requires you to allow public comment,” Price said.
He also said that it would be legal for Superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall to require that all public comment material be submitted to her in advance to let the district determine where the comment should be placed on the agenda.
“The public may not like it, and you may hear about it — but that is your prerogative, your discretion,” he said.
Price also said that requiring the public to submit their comment material in writing prior to the meetings would allow the district to have an attorney look at the request to determine where to place it on the agenda. He said establishing those kinds of rules ahead of time would give the board more solid backing.
Board members posed several hypothetical situations to Price, asking him what the appropriate actions on their part would be. One of those situations was if a board member discloses executive session discussion items in public. Price said that depends on board policies.
“In some cases, boards can censor the person in public,” he said.
Price also mentioned that closed meetings are permissive for sensitive topics/issues, and board members must maintain discretion. He pointed out that if discretion is not maintained, it could cost the district and subject the district or a board member to liability.
“Student/personnel discipline, personnel matters and contractual matters can be a legal minefield,” he said.
Price mentioned that he will testify as South Carolina House Bill H.3163 comes up this Thursday. He said changes to the bill will include the inability to charge requesters of records for staff time in conducting searches; the addition of a 30-day requirement for providing documents; and the requirement that documents associated with meetings for the previous six months must be available for inspection and copying without requiring a written request in advance.
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.