By BILL ROGERS
It is Sunshine Week across America. South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act – the Sunshine Law – gives you access to government meetings and public records.
Let me share with you the preface to the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):
“The General Assembly finds that it is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that citizens shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in formulation of public policy.”
This sentence sums up the intent of South Carolina’s Sunshine Law – that it is crucial to be aware of the important decisions public bodies make in your community. But the law and its intent mean nothing if the citizens of our state don’t take it to heart.
They do this by attending public meetings to hear what is being discussed.
They do this by demanding public documents they have the right to see.
They do this by objecting when a school board goes into an illegal secret meeting.
They do this by holding public officials accountable when they violate the FOIA.
They do this by contacting officials when there is a problem with an FOI request.
They do this, most of all, by voting.
Several years ago, I lamented to an Upstate editor that “people don’t care about closed meetings.”
He said I was wrong – people don’t care about any meetings.
Unfortunately, there is truth to his comment.
The best reaction to violations of the FOIA is to hold errant officials accountable, often at the ballot box. If members of a public body refuse to follow the law, they likely should not receive your vote in the next election. You can’t complain about government at any level if you don’t get involved and vote.
S.C. newspapers lead the way in reporting about the misconduct of public officials, but it is really up to the citizens to do something about it.
It’s your right to know.
Here endeth the lesson.
Bill Rogers is executive director of the S.C. Press Association, an advocate for open government in South Carolina.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sunshine Week is March 14-20, 2021. Join journalists in the annual nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for you and your community. It’s your right to know.