Monday, June 29, 2015

Executive sessions the focus of a recent SC Supreme Court ruling

In a recent SC Supreme Court case involving the City of North Augusta, Stephen P. Donohue sought to invalidate the city’s ordinance amending an existing redevelopment plan.

In 1996, the City of North Augusta adopted an ordinance creating a Tax Increment Finance district and Redevelopment Plan for the revitalization of the city’s riverfront. In 2013, the council amended the Redevelopment Plan to include a minor league baseball stadium, convention center, parking deck and various other structures.

The Court refused to invalidate the amended ordinance after finding that council adhered to the procedural requirements related to public notice and hearings in the state’s Freedom of Information Act. However, the Court determined that council did not satisfy the FOIA’s specific purpose requirement before going into executive session on 11 separate occasions.

The Court noted that the council's description of the purpose of the executive session as a "proposed contractual matter" wasn't specific enough to meet the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

Although the Court did not go so far as to specifically describe what council should have included in its announcement of purpose pursuant to Section 30-4-70(a)(2), it indicated that there is a difference between the level of specificity required when stating its reasons for entering executive session pursuant to Section 30-4-70(a)(2) through (a)(4) and the level of specificity required when entering executive session pursuant to (a)(1) or (a)(5).

A council seeking to go into executive session should cite the relevant subsections of Section 30-4-70 (a) along with the required statement of the purpose, and should be more specific in that statement when going into closed meetings pursuant to (a)(2) through (a)(4). 

Read more here. Also read an Uptown article with a Q&A regarding executive sessions.

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