School board won't change agenda policies after state high court ruling

Board plans to improve public access to documents, voting records

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJuly 2, 2014 

The Beaufort County Board of Education said it has no plans to limit the information it includes on its agendas, despite a recent state high-court ruling that would allow it to do so.

In June, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that agendas for public meetings can be changed and added to during the meetings. It also said public bodies aren't required to have agendas for regular meetings.

But that won't change the way the Beaufort County Board of Education does business, Chairman Bill Evans said.

"We are not going to use that ruling to start hiding what we are doing," he said. "I don't think there is anyone on the board who would want to do so, even though the ability is now there."

The state's Freedom of Information Act requires public bodies give written notices of their regular meetings that include the date, time and place of such meetings -- an agenda is not required.

The board does not have a policy governing posting and changing its agendas, Evans said. It has just always followed what is in the law, he added.

In past years, the school board has occasionally removed agenda items it wants more time to consider, or transferred items from a list of topics slated to be voted on without discussion to a list of "board actions" that allow members to ask questions.

However, the school board posts its agendas 24 hours before regularly scheduled meetings and has not added items to it thereafter, according to Evans.

The board will continue to operate that way, he said.

The board is also working to make changes that would provide greater public access to information, board vice chairwoman Mary Cordray said. A Website and Communications Committee was created to consider ways to achieve that goal.

The committee decided to begin including links on the online versions of the school board's agendas to documents and information board members review when making decisions so the public can follow along with board discussions. All regular board meetings are broadcast live on the County Channel, so the public can watch the meeting.

Board executive assistant Robyn Cushingberry said she has started putting links to the documents.

The committee also decided to post board members' voting records online. Cushingberry said that information should be online within a month.

Cordray, the committee's co-chairwoman, said she hopes the changes will make it easier for the public to be involved in and understand the board's decisions.

"People have complained about their inability to find information on our website for a long time," she said. "So it was important to us that we address this issue and provide greater access for the public."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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