Beaufort plans seminar on open meetings for its board, commission members

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 6, 2014 

Town of Port Royal planner Linda Bridges speaks to the Beaufort-Port Royal Metropolitan Planning Commission at Beaufort City Hall during an earlier meeting.

STAFF PHOTO

After a spate of possible violations of the state's open-meetings law, the city of Beaufort is planning a seminar on the topic.

All members of city boards and commissions have been invited to a meeting at 5 p.m. March 19 at City Hall, city manager Scott Dadson said.

Bill Taylor, field services manager with the Municipal Association of South Carolina, will lead the meeting. The association conducts training for elected and appointed officials, as well as government staff.

"We asked them to address the running of effective open meetings," Dadson said.

Dadson, city attorney Bill Harvey and city clerk Ivette Burgess helped arrange the seminar.

Jay Bender, an attorney for the S.C. Press Association and an authority on the state's Freedom of Information Act, has said city advisory boards likely broke the law during at least three recent meetings:

  • In February, the Historic District Review Board adjourned a meeting and stopped taking minutes, but continued to discuss board business with a majority of members present. Harvey, Dadson and Mayor Billy Keyserling each said that should not have happened.
  • In December, the Tourism Development Advisory Committee met to discuss accommodations-tax grants. However, it did not publicly advertise the meeting, and it kept the door shut while grant applicants made their presentations.
  • In November, the City Council approved an agreement with a company to plan a makeover of the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot, based on a recommendation brought to council members by Harvey and Redevelopment Commission chairman Jon Verity. At that point, the Redevelopment Commission, which vetted potential developers, had only discussed its recommendation during closed sessions, in which votes are not allowed. Harvey said afterward the commission broke no law and that the commission reached consensus through "just discussion."

In the past, Harvey said, education about open meetings and Freedom of Information Act laws has been mainly administered on an as-needed basis, as he determined.

After the tourism and historic review boards' meetings that raised questions about compliance, Keyserling and Dadson said more formal instruction is in order.

"I believe it is appropriate to help our citizen boards be the best boards they can be," Dadson said. "Helping them to run good meetings is part of that."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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