Union County school board's secrecy leaves public, media guessing
By Graham Williams
Union County News

Prior to every meeting of the Union County Board of School Trustees, board secretary Kim Petty sends me a copy of the agenda.

The agenda lists each activity, from the superintendent’s report to the finance report, along with whether or not the board is expected to take action on a particular item and the administration’s recommended course of action.

The agenda also notes if additional information about a particular item is in the board members’ packets. For example, four agenda items at tonight’s meeting have the word “enclosures,” “enclosure” or “enclosed” beside them in parentheses.

What do you suppose is contained in these “enclosures”? That’s for board members to know and the rest of us to guess.

When Union City Council and Union County Council meet, I get emails with PDFs of everything on the agenda, including minutes of previous meetings, pages of proposed ordinances and applications for various boards.
Nothing is withheld.

Because of this transparency, city council and county council meetings are very open and relaxed. Reporters covering the meetings know ahead of time what is going to be discussed, as well as the background for each agenda item.

Contrast that with school board meetings, where reporters are kept in the dark about everything. We listen in silence, taking notes about things we know little or nothing about. We can ask questions after the meeting, when board members are heading out the door, or call the district office the next day.

That wouldn’t be necessary if we were given same information as board members.

The lack of transparency on the part of the school district leads outsiders to question the need for secrecy. What are they trying to hide?

Tonight’s agenda includes a report by Superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall giving an update on accreditation. The agenda lists “enclosures” beside it. Is there something we shouldn’t know about accreditation? Why not share this information with reporters?

The personnel report includes revised procedures following bus accidents with “enclosure” beside it. Shouldn’t the public be made aware of any changes to these procedures? After all, their children are the ones riding in the buses.

The instruction report includes one overnight field trip request, followed by “enclosure.” Why is a field trip request top secret? Are students visiting the CIA headquarters?

The monthly budget report is also enclosed in the board’s packet. The school district is responsible for millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money – it should be public information.

The last item on the agenda is “executive session” for one personnel matter. Although allowed by law, this item is on every agenda, which leads people to wonder what the board is talking about behind closed doors.

School board members are elected to serve the best interests of the students as well as the taxpayers. Doing business under a cloud of suspicion serves neither purpose.

Editorial: Don't expunge FOI access
The Post and Courier

Even as the Legislature was purportedly closing in on a new ethics bill that would give the public more information about their state lawmakers, the House of Representatives passed an unrelated bill that would keep the public in the dark.

One step forward, another step back?

Fortunately, though, late last week a Senate subcommittee wisely put the brakes on that ill-advised legislation's progress toward passage.

The House proposal was supposed to protect the rights of the innocent while also keeping vital information about criminal cases from being expunged.

Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said law enforcement agencies statewide have been destroying too many reports and files about their investigations after judges have ordered them expunged.

But House Bill 4560, which was approved by a 106-0 vote in that chamber, would produce serious problems of its own.

Yes, it would narrow the scope of what is redacted in police reports - but it also would seal the remaining information from the public.

Mr. Smith, a criminal defense lawyer, said he got help from the S.C. Sheriffs' Association in drafting the wording of his bill, but he was unaware of an attorney general's opinion that said incident reports and other documentation of an investigation should be saved.

As a matter of course, legislators ought to seek the input of experts in the area being addressed.

Someone with a thorough knowledge about freedom of information laws in South Carolina should have been consulted before the March House vote to ensure that the wording of the bill didn't diminish the public's right to know.

Rep. Smith said he is "all for keeping public records public. So maybe this is a good opportunity to take another look at this."

That's wise.

But it would also be wise for lawmakers to assure needed transparency on what public bodies are doing - and to work harder to protect freedom of information in all of their deliberations.

As reported in Saturday's Post and Courier, that Senate subcommittee refused to go along with the House version. Instead, it formed a study group to give the matter further review.

Now lawmakers in both the Senate and House can re-focus on a more productive - and open - way to balance the bill's stated goals.

As Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, told our reporter: "What we're headed for is a collision of someone's personal right to be fully exonerated versus any public interest in maintaining a record of an alleged crime. I'm sure there's a way to sort that out."

And we're sure the General Assembly can do better than that fatally flawed House bill. Read more.

Myrtle Beach papers join efforts for access to search warrants
Two Grand Stand newspapers and the S.C. Press Association have joined in legal efforts to get public access to returned search warrants in the high-profile Heather Elvis murder case in Myrtle Beach.

“This is an important opportunity to assert the rights the public and press have for access to judicial records," said SCPA Attorney Jay Bender, who filed an appeal on behalf of Waccamaw Publishers, Inc., which had requested the documents from the magistrate and was turned down. Waccamaw publishes The Horry Independent, Carolina Forest Chronicle, Myrtle Beach Herald and The Loris Scene. "Both the S.C. constitution and the U.S. constitution guarantee a right of access to court records. And the exemption from disclosure claimed by the magistrate might be appropriate if the request been made for a record in the hands of a law enforcement agency, not a court.

"A favorable ruling should be protection statewide against magistrates attempting to withhold judicial records from the public.”

The Sun News did not have legal standing to join the appeal because they did not request the documents directly from the magistrate. They are filling a request to be a friend of the court in the matter.

Here's more on this issue from Michael Smith, editor of the Carolina Forest Chronicle:

Waccamaw Publishers is appealing an Horry County magistrate’s decision to deny the newspaper publishing group’s request for access to search warrant documents filed in the Elvis case.

The appeal, filed 8:13 a.m. April 3 at the Horry County Courthouse in Conway, seeks access to “executed and returned” search warrants signed by Aaron Butler, associate chief magistrate for Horry County, as it relates to the Elvis case.

Horry County police executed the warrants in the early morning hours of Feb. 21 at a pair of addresses in the 8700 block of Highway 814 in the Myrtle Beach area.

As a result of the search, Sidney Moorer, 38, and his wife, Tammy Caison Moorer, 42, were taken into custody and later charged with murder, kidnapping, obstruction of justice and two counts of indecent exposure in connection with the Elvis case.

Police have not specifically said what was found at the residences after executing the search warrant.
In the appeal, Waccamaw Publishers attorney Jay Bender said South Carolina court rules of procedure classify search warrants as judicial records that can’t be routinely withheld.

The S.C. Rules of Civil Procedure “provides a procedure for the determination of the appropriateness of sealing court records, but this procedure has not been followed in connection with the respondent’s denial of access,” the appeal states. Read more.    

Editorial: Air College of Charleston fund-raising secrets
The Post and Courier

Every year, South Carolina taxpayers pay handsomely to support the College of Charleston's fund-raising efforts. George Watt is paid $199,000 as executive director of the College of Charleston Foundation and executive vice president for institutional advancement for the College. He is supplied an office and meeting space.

But the taxpayers can't find out about how he's doing at their expense. When asked this week about individual donations to the foundation, he balked. He said he would not release information about how much individual donors contribute.

"We've never released donor information," Mr. Watt told Post and Courier reporter Diane Knich. "I'll fight you on that."


As a public employee, Mr. Watt should be particularly sensitive to the public's right to know. And as head of the Foundation, he should recognize that it is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Indeed, you'd think anyone connected with college foundations across the state would know all about their responsibilities for public disclosure. In a landmark case in 1991, Weston v. Carolina Research and Development Foundation, the S.C. Supreme Court established that university foundations are public bodies and subject to open records laws.

South Carolina Press Association lawyer Jay Bender considers it one of the most important decisions regarding freedom of information in the state. Since the opinion, he said he has not been aware of state foundations trying to avoid public scrutiny.

Until now.

According to Mr. Bender, Mr. Watt is required to make public the names of donors and the amounts they gave unless the donor specified that it must remain anonymous as a condition of giving it. Read more

Coast CEO to hire private investigator to figure out how newspaper obtained his contract proposal
Myrtle Beach Herald
By Charles D. Perry

Coast RTA General Manager Myers Rollins plans to hire a private investigator to find out who gave the Herald a copy of his written request for a raise.

Two weeks ago, the newspaper reported that Rollins was seeking a new five-year contract and a salary increase of nearly 11 percent, despite the fact that the bus service was in danger of losing state and local funding.

The story cited several documents, including Rollins’ proposed contract.

After the story appeared, a Coast official called one of the reporters who wrote it and asked him how the Herald had obtained the documents.

The reporter declined to reveal that information.

That led to Rollins emailing Coast board members last week and decrying the leak as a “despicable act.”
The CEO noted that Coast’s staff attorney would be hiring a firm to investigate the situation and find out who released the document. Read more.

Editorial: Heather Elvis search warrants should be made public
From Carolina Forest Chronicle

Because emotions are running high in the Heather Elvis case, we knew not everyone would agree with our decision to appeal a magistrate’s determination to keep the search warrants secret. Rest assured we did not take this action lightly. We weren’t trying to be sensational, nor were we trying to “sell newspapers” or “increase website traffic” as some assert (the Carolina Forest Chronicle is still free in the 29579 ZIP code, by the way).
Our decision also has nothing to do with Sidney and Tammy Moorer, who have been charged with murder in Elvis’ disappearance. It has to do with the rule of law.
We do not live in a third world autocracy, where secret police and secret courts – assuming there’s any court at all – are commonplace. We live in a democracy governed by separation of powers that includes the executive, legislative and judicial branches. And in the American judicial system, court records are not only public, they’re sacred.
The notion that court records are public isn’t something that’s been made up. Court records have stood as written examples of fundamental freedoms that for centuries have been spelled out in the U.S. and S.C. Constitutions.
When government operates in secret, people lose confidence in the fairness of the system. When the doors open and people can see what’s happening, there’s confidence the system is working fairly.
In a free democracy such as ours, somebody has to police the police to ensure that we, in fact, are functioning as a democracy, a task that typically falls to a free and independent press. Part of living in a democracy also includes an open court system. Court records are considered open unless there is a hearing to seal them. That was not done in the Heather Elvis case.
Police sought warrants to search addresses off Highway 814. The Moorers were charged a short time later. They remain jailed after bond was denied March 17. We realize many people already think the Moorers are guilty. But a gut feeling is not enough to justify keeping judicial records secret, particularly since the Moorers were supposedly charged based on what police found while executing the search warrant.
We also realize some fear making the warrants public will somehow taint the case. To this claim, our response is that courts have repeatedly found that thorough questioning of jurors will ensure a fair trial.
Search warrants are no different than arrest warrants or civil lawsuits, which are also considered open court records under state and federal law. We cannot, in a free democracy, ignore laws we find inconvenient. The law doesn’t allow us to cherry-pick which ones to follow or ignore. We cannot take shortcuts merely to obtain convictions.
In a free democracy, it’s essential for citizens to see the work police and prosecutors are doing to ensure public trust in both law enforcement and the court system. Without transparency, how can we trust police are acting properly? How can we be sure criminal charges weren’t filed to satisfy passions of the public?
There has been an almost mob mentality associated with the Elvis case. Numerous harassment complaints have been filed and two citizens following the case were even been charged with obstructing justice.

Darlington publisher to lead state press association
COLUMBIA – Morrey Thomas, publisher of the News and Press in Darlington, was elected president of the S.C. Press Association at the group’s Annual Meeting Saturday at the Hilton Columbia Center.

Other officers elected were: Judi Mundy Burns, publisher of the Index-Journal in Greenwood, as daily newspaper vice president; and Ellen Priest, president and publisher of The Star in North Augusta and the Aiken Standard as weekly newspaper vice president; and Mike Smith, executive editor of the Herald-Journal in Spartanburg, as treasurer.

Elected to two-year terms on the SCPA Executive Committee were: P.J. Browning, president and publisher of The Post and Courier in Charleston; Braden Bunch, senior news editor of The Sumter Item; and John Huff, Jr., editor in chief of the Independent Mail in Anderson.

Re-elected for continuing terms on the SCPA executive committee were: Barbara Ball, publisher of The Voice of Blythewood and Fairfield County; Dan Cook, editor of the Free Times in Columbia; and Jane Pigg, publisher of The Link in Cheraw.

“It is an honor and privilege to be able to contribute as president of our press association,” Thomas said. “Thanks to our staff and members, the SCPA is widely regarded as one of the strongest press associations in the country. It will take our continued dedication and commitment to keep us as a leader in our industry.”

Thomas served as an officer in the U.S. Navy on nuclear submarines for 10 years. Following military service, he worked at The Sun News in Myrtle Beach and The Brunswick Beacon in Shallotte, N.C. While in North Carolina, he was active on the board of the North Carolina Press Association. Thomas returned to his hometown of Darlington in 2007 to assume the duties of publisher at the News and Press.

Thomas succeeds Jack Osteen, publisher of The Sumter Item.

The election came as part of a two-day meeting attended by nearly 400 newspaper journalists from across the state.

The press association is 162 years old and includes the state’s 16 daily newspapers and 93 of its weekly newspapers.

Hearing scheduled Friday in Speaker Harrell-Atty Gen Wilson case
The Post and Courier
By Schuyler Kropf

A hearing has been scheduled tomorrow in Columbia that's expected to address the on-going feud between House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Attorney General Alan Wilson.

The State Grand Jury Office in Columbia issued an announcement this afternoon confirming there will be an open hearing at 10:30 a.m. at the Richland County Courthouse in front of Judge Robert E. Hood.

The move came as the Post and Courier, along with other members of the S.C. Press Association, filed a legal motion this morning seeking to ensure that any hearing on Harrell's request to have Wilson removed as prosecutor in his grand jury investigation be held in public.

It was not immediately clear if the hearing would address only the media access request, or include a full review of the issues surrounding Harrell and Wilson.

A spokesman for Wilson declined comment today, as did a spokesman for the grand jury office.
In court papers today, a press association lawyer said full and public access to the airing of the two's positions is an open court necessity.

"Harrell's prominence in the affairs of the State of South Carolina demands that any judicial proceeding concerning him be open for scrutiny by public and press so that the public may have confidence that 'justice was done,' " the challenge says.

The filing was done by attorney Jay Bender, attorney for the press group.

Bender says the dispute between Harrell's legal team and Wilson's office over its conduct is separate from the actual grand jury investigation that Wilson is leading and focusing on Harrell, R-Charleston.

Bender said the press filing is to ensure there is an open review, given Harrell's position as House speaker.
Harrell's lawyers reportedly want Wilson replaced and earlier pursued a hearing with Hood, who will be on the bench Friday.

The probe into Harrell's conduct dates back almost a year after the Post and Courier and a government watchdog group began examining Harrell's campaign money accounts.

SC press group’s lawyer to seek access to secret House Speaker hearing
The State
By John Monk

COLUMBIA, SC — The S.C. Press Association has authorized a leading openness in government lawyer to seek access to a hearing before a judge who secretly has been asked to kick state Attorney General Alan Wilson off an ongoing state grand jury criminal investigation involving House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

“We have no history of secret court hearings in this state, and there should not be one,” said Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association.

Lawyer Jay Bender is seeking to attend a hearing at which lawyers for Harrell are expected to argue that Wilson, the state’s top elected prosecutor, be removed from the Harrell investigation, Rogers said. Bender will argue that the public and press be allowed to attend that hearing.

“This is a very important case – it should not be decided in secret,” Rogers said. “Courts need to be in sunshine to assure fairness.

“And if the judge does decide to close the hearing, that has to be done in an open hearing. We want a chance to argue for openness.”

Bender, who is the press association’s lawyer, is representing “all the newspapers in South Carolina,” Rogers said.

The judge in the case is state circuit court Judge Robert Hood, who has been on the bench two years.

Bender has emailed Hood asking for a chance to appear at any hearing in which Harrell’s lawyers seek to disqualify Wilson, but has not heard back from the judge, Rogers said.

Early last week, The State newspaper reported that Harrell’s lawyers, Bart Daniel and Gedney Howe, were seeking a secret hearing with Hood in which they hoped to get Wilson disqualified. Harrell is being investigated by the State Grand Jury for the alleged misuse of campaign funds.

After a public outcry, the hearing was not held.

Such a hearing would be a historic event – never before in state history has a lone state judge held a secret hearing and then removed the Attorney General from a high profile case without the public knowing about it, or learning what the reasons for the disqualification were.

Wilson did not initiate the State Grand Jury investigation into Harrell’s alleged misuse of campaign funds on his own. By state law, Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, also had to sign off on the investigation. SLED is the state’s investigative arm.

The matter began in 2012, when citizen activists brought information to Wilson that indicated Harrell might have reimbursed himself about $300,000 from his campaign account to fly his private plane on state business. The House Ethics Committee declined to take up their complaint.

In 2013, Wilson asked SLED to investigate the matter.

In January, after months of investigation and a final SLED report, Wilson announced he would seek to empanel a State Grand Jury and present members with the SLED report. The State Grand Jury has broad investigative powers, including that of subpoena, and can probe into Harrell ’s affairs beyond the SLED investigation.

Since The State revealed plans for a secret hearing, five statewide citizens groups have issued statements decrying judicial secrecy in South Carolina and urging Hood to hold an open hearing.

Bender, a University of South Carolina professor in its Law School and School of Journalism, has for years played a role in working for open courtrooms and expanding the public’s access to government records. He is also the attorney for The State.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

Open government is good government;
Celebrate Sunshine Week March 16-22

Sunshine Week is a couple weeks away— March 16-22 — and you can help make Sunshine Week burn even brighter in 2014.

Join SCPA and countless organizations across the country in the discussion about the importance of access to public information and what it means for you and your community.

SCPA Executive Director Bill Rogers has written a column spotlighting the role S.C. journalists, citizens and public officials play when it comes to pushing for open government.

"Newspapers have always taken a leading role in fighting for open government, and this is a chance to continue that effort," Rogers said. 

SCPA's Sunshine Week kit is available here.

In addition to running Rogers' column, we encourage you to craft your own Sunshine Week editorials, stories, columns, cartoons and graphics. Tell readers about the role you've played in fighting for their right to know. Write a feature on your community's local heroes who have battled for access to information or to open meetings. Explain how access to public information helped develop news stories and was used by your paper's journalists over the past year. 

Demystify public records.  Share SCPA's easy to understand Citizen's Guide to the S.C. FOIA. This two-page document breaks down the Palmetto State's FOIA and will help readers understand why the law is important and how to use the FOIA to gain access to public meetings and documents. We have Web ads that you can use on your website to promote the guide. You are welcome to link to or download the PDF and put it on your own site.

The national  Sunshine Week website also has many free resources, including Op-eds, cartoons, logos and more. 

Touching letter to the editor leads to arrest
A letter to the editor in The Cherokee Chronicle from a reader whose purse was stolen has led to an arrest and the creation of a fund to help the victim. 

Duncan resident Shelly Chaney penned a "Letter to a Thief," that the newspaper ran last month. In her letter, Chaney noted how much the theft hurt her family. She explained that she and her family were visiting the Big E Entertainment Center in Gaffney, when her purse containing approximately $1,100 was stolen.  

Chaney's letter revealed that the family planned to purchase a vehicle in order to take their young children to their regular 30+ mile trip to doctor appointments. 

“That money was the only chance we had of getting a vehicle to transport my children back and forth to the doctors,” she said in her letter. “My husband and I have been in a recession for the past two years. We have not been out as a family in the past year and a half.”

According to The Cherokee Chronicle, after the letter ran in the paper, Gaffney City Police Detective Jeff Sizemore secured the video security tape that showed the theft. According to the detective, the person who picked up the purse was identified as 21-year-old Kattie McCluney of Blacksburg. McCluney was charged with Larceny, Less Than $2,000.

Although the stolen money was never recovered and the family still needs a vehicle, Chaney said she finds some comfort in knowing the person has been caught. 

“And of course, I appreciate The Cherokee Chronicle for publishing my letter. I had really lost all faith at the time,” Chaney said. 

Because of the paper's coverage, a local businessman contacted Editor Tommy Martin about starting a fund to help the Chaney family. If you would like to donate please email the Cherokee Chronicle or call Tommy at (864) 488-1016.

Update: A Gaffney woman read the letter and subsequent story in the paper and is donating a car to the family. She is getting it tuned up at the present time.

Editorial: Beaufort needs better legal advice on FOIA law

From The Island Packet
The city government of Beaufort needs a change of culture and an attorney who understands the state's FOIA and sees to its enforcement.

Time after time, the city resorts to secrecy as if it were a private club. It is not a private club, and the public is getting sick of being left out of the loop.

The state FOIA is simple and straightforward. It is there to guarantee that public business by public bodies is conducted in public.

But the city of Beaufort continues to skirt the law, and city attorney William Brantley "Bill" Harvey III has not done enough to see that obeying the FOIA is a top priority.

Last week, it came to light that an advisory body to the City Council decided how to spend $200,000 of public money behind closed doors. In addition, it took no minutes to indicate what give-and-take, what logic and what standards were used in making its recommendations.

This is wrong in every sense of the word. It is unfair, especially to each of the 14 organizations that submitted requests for accommodations tax grants totaling nearly $390,000. It is unwise because it fritters away public trust, which is an irreplaceable pillar of good governance. And it flouts both the letter and spirit of the FOIA.

Those with only a rudimentary understanding of the law know that advisory bodies to the City Council are subject to the same FOIA standards as is City Council and its committees and commissions.

That means the city's Tourism Development Advisory Committee is subject to the FOIA, just like City Council.
This is not complex. It is fundamental.  Read more

Fox named managing editor of The Greenville News
The Greenville News

William Fox, a nearly 30-year veteran of The Greenville News, was named managing editor last week following a national search, Publisher Steven R. Brandt announced.

He has held the position of interim managing editor since the departure of longtime managing editor Chris Weston in December.

Fox began his career at The News in April 1985 after earning two degrees from Northwestern University. 

“Bill Fox stood out in the national search to fill this critical news leadership role,” Brandt said. “Bill is a national award-winning journalist who comes to his new job from new media editor, where he has driven our digital transformation since 2009.

“Most importantly, he has the strongest possible commitment to our readers and our community, and he has the ability and the team to leverage that commitment into great print and digital reader experiences, every day.”

Fox was named S.C. Journalist of the Year twice and in 1991 was a member of The Greenville News team that won the Associated Press Managing Editors Public Service Award, the Selden Ring Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

He was promoted to projects editor in 1998 and in quick succession to city editor, online editor and assistant managing editor. In 2009, he became new media editor, where he has led GreenvilleOnline.com through a series of key digital news initiatives. Read more

Florida newspaper executive named publisher of Herald-Journal

Halifax Media Group announced this week that Larry Riley will be the next publisher of the Herald-Journal.

Riley currently serves as circulation director for the Herald-Tribune Media Group in Sarasota, Fla., and he previously served as publisher of news organizations in California including the Appeal-Democrat and Tri-County Newspapers in Marysville and Excelsior in Santa Ana. He hasserved as the circulation director for the Los Angeles Times and as vice president for circulation at the Orange County Register in California and the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota.

The Herald-Tribune and the Herald-Journal are owned by Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Halifax Media Group.

Riley replaces Kevin Drake, who was named the publisher of the Ledger Media Group in Lakeland, Fla., earlier this year. The Ledger is also owned by Halifax Media Group.
Riley will start his new duties March 17. Read more.

Editorial: Open autopsy records to public
The Post and Courier

As much as we'd all like to think public officials will always be honest, it simply isn't the case. That fuels today's widespread distrust of government.

And unfortunately, efforts to make government in South Carolina more open go in fits and starts.

Take, for example, autopsy reports. The coroner in Sumter County refused to release to The Sumter Item an autopsy report of a man shot by police as they searched for a carjacking suspect.

The official reason?

The coroner calls himself a health care provider and contends the records are thereby private.
No kidding.

But as SCPA attorney Jay Bender said, coroners only treat dead people.

So The Item obtained the coroner's report from another source, and, sure enough, it didn't comport with what investigators had said. Read more

Editorial: No excuse for ignorance on public's right to know

The Island Packet

Some city of Beaufort officials say they will consider formal training to teach board and commission members about public-meeting and public-records law.

The need for instruction was made starkly evident when the Historic District Review Board violated the S.C. Freedom of Information Act by adjourning a recent meeting and continuing to discuss board business with a quorum present.

Training is a welcomed possibility, but it raises a question: Who will conduct it?

All sorts of public bodies -- and certainly not just within the city of Beaufort -- constantly show a lack of familiarity with the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. Some even ignore it, based on the bad advice of their attorneys.
For example, some enter executive sessions without stating explicitly the reason for doing so, which the law demands.

Some take straw polls during executive sessions.

Many cite "personnel matters" as justification for withholding information about public employees, despite court precedent that no such blanket protection exists.

Sometimes, even when public bodies don't violate the letter of the law, they intentionally flout its spirit. Read more

A-tax advisory board recommendations go before Beaufort City Council 

The Beaufort Gazette
By Erin Moody

A city of Beaufort advisory committee is expected to formally present its recommendations for divvying more than $200,000 in accommodations-tax grants during a meeting this week.

Those recommendations were determined at a meeting in December, in which no formal minutes were kept, presentations were made behind closed doors and a media outlet that requested advance notice of the meeting did not receive it -- all possibly in violation of state open-meeting laws. ... 

Those vying for funds made their pitches to the committee Dec. 16 during a meeting that might have taken place with insufficient public notice. Groups vying for the awards were told of the meeting in emails Nov. 12 and Dec. 10, but no similar notice was received by The Beaufort Gazette, which last July formally asked the city to email agendas for all public meetings to two newsroom accounts at least 24 hours in advance.

Public bodies are obligated to honor such requests, according to the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, which includes provisions about how public bodies such as the Tourism Development Advisory Committee publicize and conduct meetings.  Read more

U.S. House unanimously passes federal FOIA bill
By Hadas Gold

The U.S. House unanimously passed a bill that would make Freedom of Information requests easier with potentially faster response times. 

H.R. 1211, the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014
 was co-sponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and puts into action an executive memorandum from President Barack Obama that calls on all agencies to have a "presumption of disclosure" to all FOIA decisions.

Perhaps most significantly for journalists, the bill would create a centralized online portal for FOIA requests under the Office of Management and Budget, and set up a group that will recommend future improvements to the FOIA process. Currently FOIA requests can be a complicated and complex process of going through different agencies and offices, who often take weeks or months to respond. Read more.

FCC says it will not monitor newsroom operations
The Post and Courier
By Prentiss Findlay and Schuyler Kropf

Responding to a backlash, the Federal Communications Commission on Friday said it would drop a planned survey of the news media that sought information on how stories are chosen.

And, going one step further, the agency sought to quash a notion that it wanted to send officials into newsrooms to control how editors and reporters do their jobs.

"Any suggestion that the FCC intends to regulate the speech of news media or plans to put monitors in America's newsrooms is false," the FCC said in a statement it released in response to questions from The Post and Courier.
Because of the controversy, the FCC said its questions to newspapers, radio and TV newsrooms about "critical information" subjects will be cut from a larger study of the media that the agency does every three years as part of a report to Congress.

Tara Servatius, host of the "Tara on TMA" morning show, said the issue lit up the WTMA-AM switchboard Friday.
"It's been on talk radio all week," she said.

The Columbia news market was selected as a pilot project to test the study design.

"To be clear, media owners and journalists will no longer be asked to participate in the Columbia, S.C., pilot study. The pilot will not be undertaken until a new study design is final," the FCC said.

The media survey portion of the study was roundly criticized by the press before the FCC announced that it was putting the effort on hold.

"That sounds intimidating and undemocratic," said Kelly McBride, senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think-tank. "We have a constitutional prohibition that prevents our federal government from meddling with the press," said McBride, who is considered an expert on ethics and reporting.

Jay Bender, lawyer for the S.C. Press Association, said the federal government has no business getting "engaged in second-guessing editors, publishers and news directors." Read more

MASC's blog is great resource for reporters
Editor's note:  Join SCPA and the Municipal Association on April 24, at MASC Offices in Columbia, as we delve into issues related to covering local government bodies. Click here to find out more
The Post and Courier
By Robert Behre

The S.C. Municipal Association created the CityConnect blog (LINK TOmuniassnsc.blogspot.com) for anyone interested in what's going on with the state's cities and towns, said Reba Campbell, the association's deputy executive director.

"We intend for the blog to share good news, breaking news or news that might get buried somewhere else," she said.

While municipal officials are the main audience, Campbell said she hopes the blog will appeal to state policymakers, state legislators, business leaders, the media and others. The site has had more than 600 hits since launching last week.

Campbell noted the association's website has more than 2,000 pages, but many elected officials are too busy to delve into them.

"More and more, general research shows you've got to give people information in multiple ways, and you've got to give it to them in short bursts," she said. "We're not trying to create new content for the most part. We're just trying to package it a little bit differently."

Campbell said the association is interested in short guest posts, 250 words or less, that are educational -not sales or political pitches.Read more

Burbage honored with S.C. Wildlife Federation's lifetime achievement award
The Island Packet

In a 44-year newspaper career, almost all of it in the Lowcountry, John Burbage wrote columns and editorials pushing for better stewardship of natural resources.

Last week, he was honored with the S.C. Wildlife Federation's lifetime achievement award. The SCWF's award citation reads: 

"John Burbage is a lifelong newspaper reporter, columnist, editor and publisher. In his 44 years as a journalist, he has worked at several prominent South Carolina newspapers and received many awards for environmental reporting and commentary. Burbage's editorials helped prove the case for legislation protecting Edisto River's water quality which led to the establishment of the ACE Basin program. He is currently working to develop energy-saving programs at Evening Post Ventures LLC. Burbage has also thoroughly researched carbon credits programs and registered 18,000 acres of EPPC woodlands. Through words and action, Burbage has helped chronicle South Carolina's history and lead the fight to preserve its environmental heritage." Read more

Changing with you, but always right here
The Greenville News
By Steven R. Brandt

Greenville, you are our home!

The largest news team — print or broadcast — between Atlanta and Charlotte will be right where it has been since 1871 — in Greenville.

And so will the rest of The Greenville News Media Group team — advertising, marketing, finance, circulation.

We will be right here reporting on the news and information most important to you; developing world-class integrated marketing solutions for Greenville area  businesses; and serving the greater good of this community.

The outsourcing of printing announced on Feb. 1 and the sale of our early and mid-20th century facilities announced in June 2012 don’t change this.

For 140 years, The Greenville News has reflected the life of this vibrant community, celebrating at times and challenging at other times. Going forward, we will carry on with that important work — living, working and  playing beside you in Greenville.

The only thing that changes, in time, is the Greenville street address, as we move to new, technologically advanced, scalable space that encourages staff collaboration and continuous interaction with readers.

That space will be right here in Greenville. Our team is excited about moving to that new Greenville space, though it likely won’t happen for another year or so.

The next step is to find a buyer for our existing facilities. While that is happening, we will be looking for new space in Greenville and then outfitting that new Greenville space with the latest technology to accommodate our relentless focus on and commitment to serving your news information needs and the Greenville business community’s need for sophisticated digital and print marketing solutions. Read more.

Charleston-based Evening Post announces two promotions
Steve Wagenlander and Ben Morgan of Evening Post Industries' newspaper division have been promoted.

Wagenlander, who is corporate director of audience development, has been named publisher of Summerville Communications, which includes The Summerville Journal Scene, The Berkeley Independent and The Goose Creek Gazette. Previously, he was interim publisher.

He replaces Ellen Priest, who was named publisher of the Aiken Standard.

Along with his corporate responsibilities, Wagenlander continues as director of audience development for The Post and Courier. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Berea College and a master's degree in management from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Morgan has been promoted to audience development operations manager for The Post and Courier. He will oversee the daily operation of The Post and Courier's audience development department and distribution.

Previously, Morgan was distribution manager. He has been with The Post and Courier for 12 years. Read more.

Judge denies request for gag order, rules to unseal Andy Patrick's case
The Island Packet
By Dan Burley

A judge ordered state Rep. Andy Patrick's divorce case to be unsealed Wednesday and denied his attorney's request for a gag order in the case. Patrick's attorney had argued that information related to the case should not be made public, including material he described as sensitive and involving the CIA, FBI and Secret Service.

Judge Vicki Snelgrove said proper procedure was not followed when Beaufort County Family Court Judge Peter Fuge sealed Patrick's divorce case in July.

"I can't find where the procedure was followed before the files were sealed," Snelgrove, a visiting judge from Aiken, said during a hearing in Beaufort. State court rules require judges and lawyers to take specific steps before a case file can be sealed, but in the Patricks' case, they weren't.

The motion to unseal the case was filed Jan. 20 by attorney Jay Bender of Columbia, who represents The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

Bender argued Wednesday that the state's constitution requires the party that wants a case to remain sealed, in this instance Patrick, to prove a significant government interest was jeopardized if the files were opened.

The newspapers want to review the entire case file because some documents that Patrick's estranged wife has already shared raise questions about his qualifications as an elected official.

Patrick, whose financial troubles were detailed in court documents and subsequently in newspapers, dropped out of the state superintendent of education race last month and said he will not seek re-election to the state House of Representatives after his term ends later this year.

Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, did not attend Wednesday's hearing because the legislature was in session.

In an effort to prevent further publicity about the case, Patrick's attorney, Doug Brannon, asked for a gag order on Feb. 1. In court Wednesday, Brannon argued for the order, which would have prevented the Patricks, their lawyers and anyone else directly involved in the case from speaking about it with others.

Brannon said a gag order was justified, in part, to prevent sensitive information in government documents related to the divorce case from being aired. Some documents concern national security matters and should be kept confidential, Brannon said.

"Some of these files have significant interest to the U.S. government," Brannon said.

Brannon said he and Patrick met with agents from the CIA two weeks ago at The Palmetto Club, a business club in Columbia, to discuss the files.

"I was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement about that," Brannon told the judge. "Many of these documents, they don't want anyone to know exist."

When the judge asked for proof of the meeting, Brannon said the agents did not allow him to make copies of the agreement. He said the agents expressed surprise that he even asked.

The sensitive documents Brannon mentioned were taken by Patrick's estranged wife, Amee, from file cabinets in Patrick's office at the couple's former home in Timbercrest, off Spanish Wells Road on Hilton Head, he said.

Lauren Martel, Amee Patrick's lawyer, said her client took the files while cleaning out the house. She said the files had been left unattended in the office for several months before Amee Patrick collected them.

Martel and Amee Patrick have met recently with government agencies to return the document from the files, Martel said.

"None of the documents are so secretive that they would cause this court to issue a gag order," Martel said.

The judge seemed to agree, commenting that if government agencies were as concerned as Brannon claimed about damage from publicity about the documents, they could have appeared in court to argue that the case remain sealed.

"If (the government agencies) aren't here arguing it, I don't think they are that interested in it," Snelgrove said.
Some of the documents date back to Patrick's time in the Secret Service, Brannon said. Others involve Patrick's business, Advanced Point Global, a security firm that worked with clients who signed non-disclosure agreements.

Brannon, a Republican House member from Spartanburg, said he didn't think sensitive documents were in the case file unsealed Wednesday, but he said affidavits in the file could allude to the "secret files."

One affidavit he mentioned was given by Amee Patrick and referred to counterfeit bills she found in the filing cabinet, he said.

Brannon said the bills -- totaling about $3,710, according the FBI -- date back to Patrick's time with the Secret Service and were unusable because they were labeled with the agency's inventory markings.

It is not unusual for a Secret Service member to have such bills, Brannon said in court.

Secret Service officials, however, say agents are required to turn in official documents and evidence when they leave the agency.

After the hearing Brannon was pressed on whether it was proper for a former Secret Service agent to keep counterfeit money after resigning, as Patrick did in 2007.

"I don't know the answer to that," he said.

Andy Patrick said in a statement released Wednesday that he notified the Secret Service about the counterfeit money as soon as he learned his wife had found it.

The agency "found no wrongdoing on my part," the statement said.

Brannon said the instance illustrated why a gag order was warranted. He said the counterfeit money issue hasn't been put in its proper context.

As the hearing ended, Judge Snelgrove made a brief statement.

"I don't think it's smart for people to try their case in the street," she added, alluding to the publicity about the case. "But I don't think I have the right to tell people they can't do stupid things."

Reserve your meeting hotel room now;
SCPA extends PDF deadline to Feb. 27

By Jen Madden

We hope you survived the snow and ice last week... it sure did slow things down here in Columbia! In fact, UPS had trouble delivering many of the judged contest entries because of adverse weather conditions in South Carolina and our judging states. Because of this, we're extending the deadline to submit your newspaper's PDF files from today until next Thursday, Feb. 27. Yesterday, we added more than 70 missing page numbers and datesso nearly all winners should have the information they need. If you need us to resend the link where you can upload your PDF files, please let Jarad know.

For the handful of contests still out at judging, please know we are doing our best to retrieve the results. We know the entrants of these contests are getting anxious about the results so we apologize for the delay. As soon as we have the winners back, we will post them online and alert members on Facebook and Twitter. Of course, winners of those contests will have an additional extension on getting corrections and PDF files to us. 

Also, the Annual Meeting and Awards Presentation is right around the corner on March 21-23! Now is the time to register for the meeting. You don't want to miss seeing more than 350 of your Palmetto State newspaper friends at the 2014 Annual Meeting and Awards Presentation at the Hilton Columbia Center in the  lively Congaree Vista! We've got interactive and educational sessions, networking events and more in our jam-packed schedule, plus more than 850 awards to present! 

Click here to view the schedule of events and to register you and your newspaper staff for the Annual Meeting!

It's also time to make your hotel reservations at the Hilton Columbia CenterThe Hilton will offer a discounted group rate of $125 through Feb. 28. In past years, we have filled up this boutique hotel and run out of rooms so please make your reservation as soon as possible. To receive SCPA's group rate of $125, you can make your reservation online or you can call the hotel at 803-744-7800 and mention you are part of the Press Association group. 

We're also offering space in the program for congratulatory ads through March 13. Click here to find out more details

We hope you're getting as excited as we are about the meeting! If you have any questions about the event, please let me or Bill know.

Editorial: De la Howe board needs schooling

It would seem additional schooling is needed at John de la Howe School in McCormick County. Not for the students, mind you, but rather for the board of trustees.

In particular, the board could use some education on how a public body is supposed to function. Last week, as the winter storm swept across the state, de la Howe trustees selected a new interim president. They did so through a series of telephone calls.

While we can certainly understand the importance of maintaining safety and not venturing out during a winter storm, what the board did was completely illegal. First, the board should have provided the public a minimum of 24 hours notice of a meeting. Second, that meeting needed to take place in a physical location. Third, there has to be a public vote taken to appoint an interim president.

We'll allow that some members could have participated by way of conference call, but public bodies simply cannot conduct the public's business over the telephone lines or cell towers. Perhaps that's one of the problems with the de la Howe board. Maybe it sees itself as conducting its own business, not the public's. Certainly, any number of public boards chose to operate as though they are accountable to no one but themselves.

It is a shame board chairwoman Jan Duncan sees nothing wrong with how Danny Webb was named the interim president. A formal meeting was unnecessary, she told the newspaper.

"It was a board action, but it did not call for a board meeting," she said.

Uh, no. That would be wrong. Our money is on the opinion of Jay Bender, the longtime attorney for the South Carolina Press Association who is regarded as an expert on open meetings laws in this state.

"That was an illegal action," Bender said. "Polling (which is precisely how the board tapped its new interim president) is specifically prohibited by the law." Read more.

Beaufort board's attempt to go 'off record' raises concerns
Beaufort Gazette
By Erin Moody

The mayor, city manager and city attorney agree it should not have happened.

And a lawyer who is an authority on South Carolina's open meeting laws says it was illegal.

A member of the city of Beaufort's Historic District Review Board interrupted a meeting and asked to speak off the record. The chairman adjourned the meeting, the recording secretary stopped taking notes, and although a quorum was still present, members continued to discuss board business.

"We are taking steps to make sure that type of scenario doesn't play out again," city attorney Bill Harvey said.

The state's FOIA, which applies to meetings of public bodies such as the Historic District Review Board, says a meeting is taking place whenever discussion or votes are conducted with a majority of members present, whether in person or electronically. Such bodies can conduct closed sessions, but only after voting to do so and only for reasons narrowly defined by law.

"There is no such thing as 'off the record' when you have a convened meeting of a public body," SCPA Attorney Jay Bender said. Read more.

Carolina Forest "halfway" through process of hiring next football coach

Carolina Forest Chronicle  
By Michael Smith

Carolina Forest school officials aren’t saying much about the search for a new varsity head football coach, but they are about “halfway” through the process, said Carolina Forest High School principal Gaye Driggers.

Driggers said Wednesday that more than 100 applicants applied for the position. She wouldn’t say how many candidates remain nor would she say when the school expects to name a new coach. ...

Section 30-4-40 (a)(13) of the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires Horry County Schools and other public bodies funded by taxpayer money to disclose the number of applicants considered for position upon request.

The FOIA also requires public bodies to release information about the final candidates considered for a position.

“All materials, regardless of form, gathered by a public body during a search to fill an employment position, except that materials relating to not fewer than the three final applicants under consideration for a position must be made available for public inspection and copying,” the FOIA law says. Read more.

New coalition tries to get cameras into Supreme Court
McClatchy Washington Bureau
By Michael Doyle

An ever-hopeful group calling itself the Coalition for Court Transparency is making the latest bid to get television cameras into the U.S. Supreme Court.

Representing an  assortment of journalism organizations, like the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Coalition has posted an online petition addressed to Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr.

"I hope you will heed our call for a more open judiciary and make the court more accessible to every American by allowing cameras to broadcast oral arguments," the petition states, adding that "additional exposure to the high quality of the debates that take place daily before the Supreme Court can only enhance the court's stature and the public's knowledge, understanding and esteem for the court."

The Coalition is also going to be airing a 30-second television spot on cable news shows promoting the cause.
The perennial push for cameras in the courtroom has included legislation and congressional hearings, but has never gained traction in the court itself. Read more.

Journal Scene names editor, announces staffing changes
Summerville Communications

The Journal Scene, The Berkeley Independent in Moncks Corner, and The Gazette in Goose Creek – has announced several changes to its editorial staff after the recent retirement of Executive Editor Judy Watts.

Frank Johnson, the editor of The Berkeley Independent and The Gazette, will now also become editor of the Journal Scene, and will oversee the editorial efforts of the three newspapers.

Anne Sheehan has been promoted to the position of managing editor of the Journal Scene.

The paper has also added Monica Kreber to its reporting staff. Kreber returns to the Lowcountry from her position as a reporter for The Daily Journal in Seneca.

Summerville Communications Publisher Steve Wagenlander said that the promotions come in the midst of exciting growth for all three publications. He thanked Watts for her years of service.

“The Journal Scene, The Gazette and The Berkeley Independent have all benefitted tremendously from Judy Watts’ leadership in our newsrooms,” Wagenlander said. “Frank Johnson has worked side by side with Judy and certainly understands what it takes for our three newspapers to continue the quality journalism that our readers expect and deserve. I am excited to have Frank lead our news gathering operation during this very important time in Berkeley and Dorchester Counties." Read more.

Beam named AP Statehouse correspondent in Kentucky

The Associated Press

Adam Beam, an award-winning government and politics writer at The State, is joining The Associated Press as its lead Statehouse reporter in Kentucky.

Beam, 31, will be based at the Statehouse bureau in Frankfort. He comes to the AP after nine years at The State, where he covered law enforcement, state and local government, and politics, including the administration of Gov. Nikki Haley and the state's GOP presidential primary in 2012. His work has won honors from the South Carolina Press Association six times since 2006, and in 2008, he was named winner of the Ambrose E. Gonzales Award for Distinguished Journalism, named for the co-founder of The State.

He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of South Carolina. Read more.

Fort Mill Times, Enquirer-Herald win McClatchy President's Awards
The Fort Mill Times and the Enquirer-Herald of York have won McClatchy President's Awards for journalism excellence in the community newspaper division.

These S.C. weeklies were two of eight papers across the country honored for their journalism excellence among McClatchy’s non-daily newspapers. 

First place for special projects went to Jenny Overman and Michael Harrison of the Fort Mills Times for a series of stories that explored homelessness in the region. 

“A great example of how journalism questions conventional wisdom to reveal the truth, with positive results,” the judges wrote. “The stories have changed lives, moving readers to get involved and find jobs for those who were once homeless.” View the special project here ( Part One | Part Two | Part Three). 

Jennifer Becknell of the Enquirer-Herald won a second place award in the Features contest for “ 90 years of peaches.”

Judges said, "The story has a strong sense of place, history and community pride."

S.C. Supreme Court hears autopsy reports case
The Associated Press
By Jeffrey Collins

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The state Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case that will decide whether autopsy reports can be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, entitling the public - and the news media - to examine them.

The case stems from a lawsuit brought by the Item newspaper against Sumter County Coroner Harvin Bullock after he refused to release an autopsy report of a man shot to death by police in 2010 during a carjacking investigation. The newspaper got the report through another source and as a result was able to report critical details about the shooting that were not made public.

The newspaper sued the coroner, but a lower court agreed that autopsy reports are medical records and threw out the lawsuit in 2012. The newspaper appealed and, on Wednesday, told the high court that the issue is "a democratic" one.

"This man was killed by people acting on behalf of the public and the public is entitled to know what caused this man's death," attorney Jay Bender argued for the newspaper.

But some of the justices seemed skeptical. Chief Justice Jean Toal said autopsy results contain a number of other deeply personal medical determinations, like whether someone had heart disease or the condition of other organs. That information is irrelevant to the criminal investigation.

"We've got to make a rule that applies to a lot more than this case that involved the public's right to know about a criminal matter," Toal said.

The coroner says autopsies should be considered medical records that should be kept private. Even if the justices determine autopsy reports aren't medical records, they should still be kept from the public under federal health care privacy laws, according to lawyer Andrew Lindemann, who is representing the coroner.

"Simply because it is done post-mortem doesn't make it any less of a medical record," Lindemann said.

In the 2010 shooting, police said the suspect fired on them. But the autopsy report showed 25-year-old Aaron Jacobs didn't have gunshot residue on his hands and was shot in the back. Police later arrested another man and charged him in the carjacking. The officer who shot Jacobs was not charged; the coroner said his report did not change any conclusions made by police.

The case doesn't deal with autopsy photos, which are banned from being released to the public under a separate state law passed after the death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt a decade ago. But that law said nothing about the written autopsy report.

Whether autopsy reports are public records varies widely across the country. About 15 states allow the public release of reports. About a half-dozen other states allow the release of reports not being used as part of a criminal investigation, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Most of the rest completely restrict the release of the information.

The justices will rule on the case at a later date. Read more.

Borton named president, publisher of The State
The State
By Carolyn Click

Sara Johnson Borton was named president and publisher of The State Feb. 5, only the second woman to hold the top post at the McClatchy Co.-owned newspaper in Columbia.

Borton, 55, is now president and publisher of McClatchy’s two Lowcountry newspapers, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, and will continue in that role.

“The connections between the Lowcountry and The State newspaper go back to the late 1800s, when two progressive journalists born in the Lowcountry -- brothers NG. Gonzales and Ambrose E. Gonzales -- founded The State newspaper, “Borton said. “They crusaded for various reforms and their work brought about profound change for the good of South Carolina.

“I’ll continue to support energetic and fair news coverage -- the kind that has distinguished The State, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette over the years,” she said. “At the same time, our newspapers will seek to be good corporate citizens in each of the communities we serve.

Borton, a native of Florida who has lived in South Carolina since she was a child, will continue to have her home on Hilton Head Island but will live part time in Columbia. McClatchy vice president for operations Mark Zieman, who oversees McClatchy’s newspapers in the Southeast, said Borton will bring passion to her new post as a leader in public service journalism and digital journalism.Borton succeeds Henry B. Haitz III, who resigned as president and publisher of the State Media Co. in December to become president and publisher of Hearst’s Connecticut Newspapers.

Borton is the 12th person and second woman to be publisher of the 123-year-old State. Ann Caukins, president and publisher of the Charlotte Observer, also was publisher of The State. Read more.

Cost to defend Occupy lawsuit against Haley unknown after two years
'The public has a right to know,' S.C. Press Association head says
Charleston City Paper
By Corey Hutchins

South Carolina taxpayers are in the dark about how much public money has gone to defend Gov. Nikki Haley after Occupy Columbia members sued her two years ago following their arrests for protesting at the Statehouse. A trial could come as early as September. 

Haley's attorney, Kevin Hall of Columbia, declined to say how much public money has been used to pay for the defense, and a state agency that covers the legal fees of public officials — the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund — won't release financial documents related to the case. But agency spokeswoman Rebecca Griggs confirmed the IRF is paying for the Republican governor's defense. The director of the state's press association says the costs should be made public.

Insurance Reserve Fund director Anne Macon Smith denied a Jan. 13 Freedom of Information act request to inspect records that would show how much the State of South Carolina has paid for Haley's defense over the past two years. Smith cited an exemption in state FOI law that says the agency doesn't have to disclose such information since the case hasn't yet been settled or concluded.

That provision in the law rankles SCPA Attorney Jay Bender.

“It's unfortunate that the General Assembly has decided that the public is not entitled to know how much is being spent to defend a case for which there is no defense,” Bender says. “The state is defending it in the hopes that somehow the governor's political misstep can be made to go away.”

This legislative session, Aiken Republican Rep. Bill Taylor, a former journalist, is in his fourth year working on a way to bring teeth to the state's FOI law. He's not looking at re-writing the Act or examining specific exemptions in it, but rather trying to create enforcement mechanisms for the current law to make sure public bodies are complying with it. 

“I think any time we're spending the peoples' money there ought to be total transparency,” he said when asked about the IRF's cited exemption for ongoing legal cases. “If this fund is there to legitimately defend a public official, the public ought to know what's being spent to defend that public official.” Read more.

USC writing new story for journalism school
The State
By Andrew Shain
After more than three decades at the bottom of the Carolina Coliseum, the University of South Carolina’s journalism school will see daylight near the Horseshoe in a little more than a year.

USC celebrated the start of a $25 million renovation project Monday that will turn the 52-year-old former Health Sciences building, at Greene and Sumter streets, into the new home for the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

The new location will have nearly double the space for the school’s 1,500 undergraduate and graduate students studying journalism, advertising, public relations, visual communications and mass communications.

The site on USC’s central campus gets the communications school, which dates back to 1923, out of what Dean Charles Bierbauer called an “inflexible blockhouse.”

Classes are scheduled to start at the new location in the fall of 2015. Read more.

Deal struck to move printing of Greenville, Asheville newspapers
From The Greenville News
Gannett has reached an agreement with Halifax Media Group to print The Greenville News and the Asheville Citizen-Times at Halifax printing facilities in Spartanburg and Gastonia, N.C., around April 1, 2014.

The two newspapers and related non-daily publications currently are printed at The Greenville News Media Group facility on Main Street in downtown Greenville.

Gannett, the parent of The Greenville News Media Group, also announced that the Greenville printing and distribution facility will close, affecting about 42 full-time and 75 part-time positions.

Gannett is implementing plans for transitional pay for affected employees, according to the company. In addition, The Greenville News Media Group will work to identify opportunities at other Gannett locations and at the Halifax printing facilities in Spartanburg and Gastonia. Read more.

Dynamic improvements coming to newspaper
The Greenville News
By Steve Brandt

The changes affecting newspapers have indeed been huge. As I look out over our community, state, nation and world, though, I am hard pressed to find a business or organization that has not faced big, powerful external forces over the last 20 years. And I am impressed with how well so many of them have navigated those sometimes stormy waters to achieve long-term success. Each Sunday in the Entrepreneurs section, The Greenville News highlights business people and organization leaders who have made disruptive change a strategic partner rather than an adversary.

The same positive adaptation dynamic has been played out in other arenas. A local independent school, where I have the privilege of serving as a trustee, has faced a long list of landscape-altering changes over the last decade. The response of administrators and volunteer leadership has been a lesson in thoughtful, purposeful change designed to maximize the benefit to all stakeholders.

In the weeks ahead, The Greenville News Media Group will be taking another page out of that playbook of thoughtful, purposeful change with a series of dramatic improvements to the print and e-editions ofThe Greenville News as well as to each of our digital products. These improvements for our readers will, at the same time, drive even more robust marketing solutions to help local businesses generate more business.

On Feb. 9, we are going to introduce more local and national news into the paper and the e-edition of The Greenville News. An increased local news report will be concentrated in the first section of the newspaper, giving local news the prominent position that it deserves. In partnership with USA Today, more national, sports and lifestyle coverage will be added in our other sections. Read more.

Item debuts new look
The Item
By Ratevia Evans

Starting Jan. 28, the Sumter community will notice some major changes to its local paper. Jan. 28 was the first day of the new and improved local newspaper, The Sumter Item. After diligent work with a consultant, The Osteen Publishing Co. will roll out a revamped newspaper to better serve our readers.

The newspaper has had a number of house advertisements in it, giving an overview of the new design and the company's efforts to reach new readers.

Some of the changes you will notice are the new name and designed masthead, which has been changed from The Item to The Sumter Item, and the size of the paper, which will now be five columns instead of six. The change in the number of columns in The Sumter Item makes it much easier for advertisers, explained Publisher Jack Osteen.

The price of the paper throughout the week will also change on Feb. 1. Weekday papers and Saturday papers will increase in cost from 60 cents to 75 cents, while Sunday's paper will remain $1.50.

As you've noticed in the past few months, we have also added a few new faces to our staff, including a full-time photographer to take better photos to accompany our local coverage. With a new photographer and more staff reporters, we look forward to covering more local events and news that concern and interest the residents of Sumter County.

"My hope is that we'll do a better job of covering stories and local news and we'll have better images for those stories with a full-time photographer on staff," Osteen said. "The redesign is about refreshing our publication and reinventing ourselves. In this business, you're always trying something new and creative to reach new readers."

Following the change in our physical publication, The Sumter Item will also have more of an online presence in the future. After the redesign of the newspaper, a new website will soon follow. The Osteen Publishing Company is making the various changes to better serve the Sumter community and connect with the people who love this county and call it home.

"We care about this community," Osteen said. "In the end, it's not only about redesigning because this is our bread and butter. But it's about connecting with people and covering news and stories that matter to them."

Read a great feature in SNPA about the redesign: SNPA: Kiss the six-column grid goodbye

Read Graham Osteen's column: A new Sumter Item

NNA survey: Small town residents depend on their community paper

Two-thirds of residents in small towns across America depend upon their local newspaper for news and information, according to the National Newspaper Association’s most recent newspaper readership survey.

NNA, founded in 1885, represents 2,200 members across the U.S. Its mission is to protect, promote and enhance America’s community newspapers. Most of its members are weekly or small daily newspapers in smaller or niche communities.

The survey noted that more readers are using mobile devices to shop, read and communicate. The number with smartphones jumped from 24 percent to 45 percent and 39 percent said they used the phones to access local news.

Newspaper websites remained the leading provider of local news, followed distantly by a local TV station’s site and then by national aggregators, such as Google and Yahoo.

The annual NNA Community Newspaper Readership survey was completed in 2013 in partnership with the Center for Advanced Social Research of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. Surveyors reached 508 households in communities where a local newspaper of circulation of 15,000 or less served the communities.
The survey began in 2005. It has consistently shown the community newspaper to be the information leader in smaller communities. 

Trust in the local newspaper remains high, the survey found.

Overall, readers in the 2013 survey gave high ratings to the accuracy, coverage, quality of writing and fairness of news reporting of the local print newspapers. In “coverage of local news,” “quality of writing” and “fairness of reporting,” their combined ratings were higher than in 2012. Read more.

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