Monday, July 16, 2007

Inside Baseball: FOI Searches

Posted by Greg Hambrick on Mon, Jul 16, 2007 at 1:22 PM

You know it's a fun decision when the court refers to the question as "noble." City hall reporters and eagle-eyed residents will know that there is hardly a more common test of the state's Freedom of Information Act than the attempt by local council's to hide hiring decisions. Applicants usually don't like their names revealed until they're finalists for positions and administrations are quick to help.

I used to keep a copy of the state's FOIA in my car, but I never had to pull it out until the rural County Council I covered tried to hire an administrator from four semi-finalists. It took some explaining on my part to explain to the council chairman that he had turned those semi-finalists into finalists. Thank goodness I had an easier time getting the information than the Spartanburg Herald-Journal

The S.C. Supreme Court made a decision today coming from a Spartanburg case where the school district hired a superintendent from two "finalists" who were selected from a group of five semi-finalists. The daily newspaper sued to get information on the group of five, because state law opens the documents on hiring for no less than the final three applicants.

The statutory language requiring disclosure of materials relating to “not fewer than the final three applicants” requires the public body to disclose the final pool of applicants comprised of at least three people. We do not agree with appellant that only those applicants deemed by the agency to be “finalists” are subject to disclosure. According to the plain language of the statute, disclosure is limited to the final pool consisting of not fewer than three applicants.

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