Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic wants the S.C. Freedom of Information Act to require more public disclosure about government employees.
"I think it is unfortunate that some governmental units rely upon these sections of our State code to deny taxpayers and media representatives from learning the salaries and benefits paid by them," Kubic wrote in a letter to Gov. Nikki Haley and state legislators representing Beaufort County. "It is my belief that the public should have access to this information."
Under current law, public employees' salaries and benefits must be released upon request, but there are exceptions.
For example, if someone wants to know the salary of a public employee whose annual compensation is less than $50,000, the law requires only that a salary range -- not the exact figure -- be released.
Government can release more detailed information if it chooses, but Kubic said in an interview that forces officials to interpret a gray area between public disclosure and employees' privacy.
Kubic's letter Monday to Haley and the legislators sought their help in removing the exceptions.
A Haley spokesman confirmed the governor's office had received the letter but declined to comment until the matter could be reviewed.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he might sponsor a bill to amend the FOIA law as Kubic suggests, though such a proposal would not likely see debate this legislative session.
"I am not sure what the history behind the current exemptions is, but government exists to serve the people, not the other way around, and a strong FOIA law is critical to effective oversight by the people of their government," Davis wrote in an e-mail.
The exceptions date to the original FOIA law passed in 1976, according to Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association.
"A lot of it was before my time, but I suspect it was to give some balance of privacy to the lower-paying employees," he said.
Though the law has been amended several times, the pay exemptions remain intact.
Rogers said any proposal to eliminate them would likely face criticism.
"Most governmental agencies would be opposed to it, I suspect," he said.
But every penny of public expenditure should be accountable to the taxpayer, Kubic said.
Rogers said the salary exemption is "not big on the complaint list," but he commended Kubic's stance.
"I applaud his desire for total transparency," he said.
Many states do not have exemptions in their FOIA laws for any public workers' salaries. Kubic said Ohio, where he served in municipal government, is among them.
"If other states can find a way to do it, then South Carolina should join them," Kubic's letter states. "After all, sunshine is truly the best disinfectant."