After three possible open-meeting violations by Beaufort boards in recent months, some members of those panels gathered Wednesday for a review of South Carolina's open-meeting and freedom of information laws.
Representatives from at least 12 committees and organizations -- including the three who committed potential violations -- were on hand for the seminar conducted by Municipal Association of South Carolina field services manager Bill Taylor.
Taylor's presentation, which lasted about 90 minutes, covered topics such as proper meeting notification, outlining meeting agendas and fulfilling FOIA requests.
Mayor Billy Keyserling said the seminar would be a "refresher for some, and a beginner's course for others." The presentation was organized city manager Scott Dadson, city attorney Bill Harvey, and city clerk Ivette Burgess after the recent a run of possible violations
In the most recent incident, the Historic District Review Board adjourned a meeting Feb. 12 and stopped taking minutes, but continued to discuss board business with a majority of members present. Review Board Chairman Joel Newman and board member Erica Dickerson were both present at Wednesday's meeting.
Taylor told members that anytime a quorum of the board is present, it is considered a meeting and is subject to open-meeting laws.
In December, the Tourism Development Advisory Committee met to discuss accommodations-tax grants. However, it did not publicly advertise the meeting, kept the door shut while grant applicants made their presentations, and did not keep meeting minutes. Committee chairman Chip Dinkins was present at Wednesday's meeting.
Taylor said meetings must be properly advertised, recommending both notices to local media and a physical notice at the meeting's location. He added electronic notices, whether by email, website, or social media, should only be used to supplement physical ones.
In November, the City Council approved an agreement with a company to plan a redesign of the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot, based on a recommendation from the Redevelopment Commission that had only been discussed in closed sessions -- where votes are not allowed. Harvey said later the commission broke no law and reached a consensus through discussion.
Commission chairman Joe Verity was out of town on business and missed Wednesday's meeting, Keyserling said, but members Mike McFee and Alan Dechovitz were present.
Taylor said in his presentation that in closed session, no action such as votes can be taken and that other subjects should not be brought up outside of the specific matter the closed session was called for.
Harvey said his understanding was that only the general topic of discussion needed to be stated -- like confidential legal advice or the discipline of an employee -- rather than the exact legal issues or disciplinary matters to be discussed.
"We've been called on the carpet by the press for not disclosing what we're going into, but there is nothing that I know of that says you must state what your specific matter is for going into a closed session," he said.
The media can be left out of executive or closed sessions, but if they are invited in, that information can be used by a reporter, Taylor said, responding to a question from Newman.
"If you allow them to stay, expect to see it in the newspaper," Taylor said.
Keyserling said after the meeting that nearly every group affected by the open-meeting laws was represented. For those not in attendance, copies of Taylor's presentation would be available, he said.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.