Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lots of economic impact in 2.5 minutes next week

There will be lots of economic impact packed into a few minutes next Monday when much of South Carolina experiences the once-in-a-lifetime eclipse.

With spectators coming from around the world, some 140 South Carolina cities and towns are positioned to offer a memorable weekend followed by an awe-inspiring few minutes. Get a list of what some South Carolina cities have planned and read this Columbia Business Monthly article to find out what several small towns are doing.

In preparation for the approximately 2 ½-minute event, the Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services staff has offered a number of safety tips cities should consider when hosting large crowds.

If the city is sponsoring a free public viewing event, make sure there is some shade and cool beverages. Consider hiring a vendor to manage or support parking, traffic and sanitation efforts. Coordinate with public safety officials and logistics organizers. Security should be heightened, considering the recent attacks seen around the world. Minimize outdoor construction and maintenance activities on the day of the eclipse, since the event is expected to attract additional onlookers and travelers on the city's roads and properties.

Individuals planning to watch the eclipse should be careful. Looking directly at the sun with the naked eye or through an optical aid can be extremely dangerous, and there is only a brief phase, "totality," when the moon completely blocks the sun during which onlookers can remove their glasses.

Take the following steps:

  • Check for local information on the timing of when the total eclipse will begin and end. NASA's page of eclipse times is a good place to start.
  • Don't stare at the sun. It's too bright for the eye.
  • Research and purchase special-purpose solar filters, "eclipse glasses" or hand-held solar viewers. Make sure the glasses are certified. Some have been recalled as unsafe.
  • Smoked glass, X-ray films, sunglasses and camera filters, for example, are all dangerous and should be avoided completely for viewing.

Despite the warnings, there are plenty of ways to safely enjoy the eclipse. For detailed information on the path of the eclipse, maps, merchandise and more, visit this webpage.

SC Educational Television and Public Radio will be covering the eclipse live on television, radio and live streaming. Get links to previous stories looking at the safety of glasses, emergency preparedness, traffic, photography during the eclipse and more.


Friday, August 11, 2017

'Tis the season ... to start planning for the 2018 session

By Casey Fields, manager for municipal advocacy

It’s August - time for the once in a lifetime solar eclipse and time for the Municipal Association’s annual Regional Advocacy Meetings. Don’t miss either this year. You don’t need protective eyewear for our meetings, though.

Jump in the car with your fellow local officials and hit the road for an advocacy meeting near you. We’ve scheduled them so no one should be more than a 90 minute drive from one of the meetings.

We will share a good meal, some fellowship and talk politics. I loved seeing everyone at Annual Meeting. Regional Advocacy Meetings are just another opportunity for us to gather and keep up the momentum after such a great meeting in Hilton Head.

The Regional Advocacy Meetings start on Tuesday, August 15, in Myrtle Beach at the Historic Train Depot. If you haven’t already registered, do it now. The discussion and information are important, but we also serve up a good meal of local fare. We always try to use city facilities and local caterers to show off the city where we are meeting.

We will open up the meetings by looking ahead to big issues for the 2018 legislative session. Our staff will update on you on the progress with business licensing legislation, and we will talk with you about what’s on your mind about issues in your city or town. 

Advocacy staff will also go over important bills that passed during 2017 such as changes to FOIA, municipal elections and the state pension system.

This is not a lecture-style meeting. It’s a discussion among us, you and each other. Designed to be fast-paced but thorough enough to walk away with some good information, the meetings help us plan next steps for the months leading up to the new session in January.

I know you are busy. I know you have a lot of other responsibilities including running your city and protecting your residents. But this time together is important.

Register now for a Regional Advocacy Meeting. Don’t miss the opportunity to tell us what’s on your mind and hear what new laws are in place. I can’t wait to see your smiling faces! Never too soon to start planning our strategy to advocate for strong cities and towns in our General Assembly.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A $13,000 Lesson

By Tiger Wells, Government Affairs Liaison

The meetings of public bodies must be open to the public. This is a central and typically uncontroversial tenant of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act

As is usually the case with general rules, however, there are exceptions.

For any of six reasons outlined in the Freedom of Information Act, a public body may go into a closed session. Five of these apply to municipal government. Before entering executive session, the public body’s presiding officer must announce the specific purpose of the executive session according to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Two years ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court made it clear that the words “proposed contractual matter,” for example, do not satisfy the specific purpose requirement. In Donohue v. City of North Augusta, the North Augusta city council was found to have violated FOIA when it invoked Section 30-4-70(a)(2) of the S.C. Code of Laws and stated that it was going into executive session to discuss a “contractual matter.” 

Now, just two years following that opinion, another public body has been admonished by a lower court for a similar violation. In a recently issued order out of the Newberry County Court of Common Pleas, Newberry County Council was found to have violated FOIA by holding closed meetings without sufficiently announcing the meetings’ specific purpose. 

According to the court’s order, meeting minutes from one of these public meeting indicate that the announced purpose of the closed session was “the receipt of legal advice where the legal advice relates to a pending, threatened, or potential claim or other matters covered by the attorney-client privilege.”

Noting first that this description amounts to a partial reciting of the exact language of Section 30-4-70(a)(2), the court concluded reciting the applicable code section “in such a general way” constituted hiding the specific topic of the executive session. As a result, the public body was found to have denied the public its right to know what was being discussed, and ordered to pay $13,708.63 in fees and costs.

Through the Donohue case, the S.C. Supreme Court pointed to an example of how not to go into executive session, but stopped short of articulating precisely what form the statement of specific purpose should have taken. If this most recent case advances at least to the state Court of Appeals, it will be interesting to see if South Carolina’s appellate courts seize this opportunity to give more concrete guidance.