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Supreme Court rules on amending meeting agendas

Editor's note: In 2015, in Donohue v. City of North Augusta, the SC Supreme Court reminded public bodies to give a more specific reason for entering executive session. In 2016, in Brock v. Town of Mount Pleasant, the Court ruled on the topic of whether public officials are allowed to take action after they emerge from an executive session.

In June, two years after the state Court of Appeals ruled on the Lambries v. Saluda County case which was related to amending public body meeting agendas, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision. The Lambries case involved a lawsuit filed by a Saluda County resident that alleged council's practice of amending the agenda during regularly scheduled meetings violated the state's Freedom of Information Act.

In June 2012, the Court of Appeals acknowledged that the FOIA does not specifically address amending an agenda during a regularly scheduled meeting. However, the judges concluded that the "spirit" of the FOIA was to provide advance notice of "substantive public matters" to be considered and that this purpose cannot be achieved if an agenda is amended at the meeting or during the 24-hour notice period required by FOIA.

On June 28, 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned this ruling concluding, "FOIA's notice statute does not require an agenda to be issued for a regularly scheduled meeting, and FOIA contains no prohibition on the amendment of an agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting""

In response to the ruling, Miriam Hair, executive director of the Municipal Association, said, "We agree with the ruling of the Supreme Court based on state law; however, we believe the best practice for cities is to have an agenda for all meetings posted a minimum of 24 hours in advance of the meeting. This practice helps councils efficiently and effectively handle the public's business."

"Public notice of the agenda is also an effective way to keep the public informed as to what the council will discuss at its next meeting. However, we acknowledge that there may be unusual circumstances when a council may need to amend an agenda at the time of the meeting to address a critical and unanticipated situation."