EDITORIAL Vote "No" on this executive session
If ever there was an executive session to vote “no” on, this was the one.
A Legal Briefing on the Budget Ordinance. What in tarnation could have there possibly be that the public can’t know about the budget? The briefing discussed in private might have been this - This is why we need 5 votes to pass a budget, when normally we need 4. Why can’t the public know that?
For background, Laurens County Council spend 9 minutes in executive session at the beginning of its Aug. 22 meeting to get a legal briefing. Then, later, without public objection, 4 of its 7 members voted to adopt a $30 million spending plan.
Because of two attorneys suing Newberry County, public bodies now must state the specific reason for shielding the public’s business from the public. Journalists had tried for years and years to negotiate “specific reason” with public bodies from the mountains to the seas of South Carolina, to almost no avail. It took lawyers to make that clarification possible, plus a healthy dose of openness provided by Gov. McMaster signing an upgraded Freedom of Information Act. But nobody has to answer this question, “Do we really need to talk about these matters, even though they’re specific, in closed session?”
There is almost no issue that needs to be shielded from the public.
Negotiations with an industry, maybe. But there is considerable concern among news media and others that industries are getting far too generous inducements, leaving the rest of us to foot most of the bills.
Unfounded accusations against public employees - yes, certainly, these should be shielded from the public. Officials know, however, that a disciplined employee - not the public body doing the discipling - has the right, under South Carolina law, to have an open or closed hearing.
None of this was in effect before the Laurens County Council on Aug. 22. They were there to conduct public hearings on budgets, and they did things back(deleted word)ward.
They called for hearings, then explained the budget. There were people in the audience who would have spoken against a property tax increase - but they had no reason to know a county property tax increase was coming. Not until County Administrator Jon Caime said so - after the public hearings were closed. After people were required to sign up for public comments before the meeting’s 5:30 p.m. gavel-drop.
Caime explained the budget for the 6 council members (vice-chairman Keith Tollison can’t come any more because he’s out of town on business). The 6 council members - we presume - learned about the Budget Ordinance and how to conduct a vote in the executive session. That was the specific purpose - Legal Briefing on Budget Ordinance.
The state requiring Laurens County, and all public bodies, to put more money into a faltering pension system threw the budget voting all out of whack.
Proposed one way, the pension money required a super-majority approval of council - 5 of the 6 members present to vote “yes.” That wasn’t going to happen.
Proposed another way, the pension money required a majority approval of council - 4 of the 6 members, and that’s how Laurens County’s $30 million spending plan for FY18 passed. More than 2 months late.
It’s not the County Council’s job to explain the budget to the public. The fact is, people who would have spoken up against a property tax increase were so beaten down by the Aug. 8th meeting - one person was told by the chairman to sit down an be quiet - that they had no fight left. Plus, outside, at the base of the courthouse steps, they were being called racists for having concerns about a tax hike for a new high school.
Taxes are necessary, and we elect people to decide if increasing those taxes is a want, or a need. We trust public officials to know the difference - we have a seat at the table, because of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, to test what they know.