Stephen P. Donohue sought to invalidate the City of North Augusta’s ordinance amending an existing redevelopment plan to include an economic development project not considered at the time the original plan was adopted.
Donohue contended that the city council’s failure to “redetermine that the property affected by the amended ordinance meets the criteria set forth in Section 31-6-80 (A) (7),” and violations of the state’s Freedom of Information Act required that the ordinance be invalidated. While the Court agreed that council’s actions violated FOIA, the Court cited the council’s compliance with procedural requirements as the basis for upholding the ordinance.
In 1996, the City of North Augusta adopted an ordinance creating a Tax Increment Finance district and Redevelopment Plan for the revitalization of the city’s riverfront. In 2013, the council sought to amend the Redevelopment Plan to include a minor league baseball stadium, convention center, parking deck and various other structures.
Although the Court refused to invalidate the amending ordinance after finding that council adhered to the procedural requirements related to public notice and hearings found in Section 31-6-80 (A) (7), the Court determined that council did not satisfy the Freedom of Information Act’s specific purpose requirement before going into executive session on 11 separate occasions.
The Court noted that Section 30-4-70(a) (2007) allows a public body to hold a closed meeting for any one of five reasons, provided that its "specific purpose" is announced in the open session.
As provided in Section 30-4-70(b), specific purpose is defined as:
"a description of the matter to be discussed as identified in items (1) through (5) of subsection (a) of this section. However, when the executive session is held pursuant to Sections 30-4-70(a)(1) or 30-4-70(a)(5), the identity of the individual or entity being discussed is not required to be disclosed to satisfy the requirement that the specific purpose of the executive session be stated."
The Court observed that, during the council meetings at issue, city council did not invoke either Section 30-4-70 (a) (1) or (a) (5), the two subsections that specifically allow the identity of the individual or entity to be withheld. Rather, in each of the 11 executive sessions challenged by Donohue, the minutes reflect Council invoked only § 30-4-70 (a) (2), and merely stated that the specific purpose of the meeting was to be a "contractual matter." As such, the Court determined that council had failed to satisfy the specific purpose requirement.
Although the Court's analysis confirms a distinction between what is required when going into closed session pursuant to (a)(1) or (a)(5) as opposed to the requirements when going into closed session pursuant to (a)(2) through (a)(4), it did not provide details regarding what council should include in its announcement before going into executive session under one as opposed to the other.