A circuit court judge is expected to rule next month whether the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce must comply with the state's open records law and reveal more documentation about how it spends its money.
Attorneys expect that the lawsuit will eventually help create new S.C. case law, detailing the types of information that organizations that receive public funding must disclose under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
The decision comes more than three years after a lawsuit began between the chamber and its staunchest opponent, Hilton Head businessman Skip Hoagland, who maintains the group must submit to the state law because it receives millions in public funding each year.
The chamber has refused to provide the information, countering that it is not a public body and not required to follow the state's public records statutes. Rather, chamber officials contend, the organization is a contractor using public funding to attract tourists to the area as the designated marketing organization for Hilton Head, Bluffton and Beaufort County.
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Attorneys for the chamber and Hoagland argued the distinction before 12th Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles, of Florence, on Wednesday morning.
Nettles did not rule on the case Wednesday, but asked attorneys Robert Stepp, representing the chamber, and Taylor Smith, representing Hoagland, to submit draft orders to the court in two weeks.
Nettles will then submit his own final order.
That order almost certainly will not settle the case, though. Both sides have pledged to challenge the decision in the S.C. Court of Appeals should they lose.
The case eventually could rise to the S.C. Surpreme Court, the attorneys have said.
"There is not much case law from the courts to give us guidance on this," Nettles told the courtroom. "I anticipate this will give us some guidance."
- After heated confrontation, Skip Hoagland permitted to speak at Hilton Head meeting, Jan. 19, 2016
- Bluffton beefs up security at council meetings, Jan. 12, 2016
- Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett still adjusting as he finishes his first year in office, Dec. 19, 2015
- Hilton Head councilwoman granted temporary restraining order against Skip Hoagland, Dec. 11, 2015
- Town leaders narrowly approve contract with chamber of commerce Tuesday night, Nov. 17, 2015