Horry County Council made a smart move Friday.
No, we’re not weighing in on the mask mandate again.
We’re referring to the council’s decision Friday to notify the media about an emergency meeting and to broadcast that meeting via the county’s website. The public was able hear officials debate and ultimately adopt a mask ordinance.
This is important because just four months ago council members did not make this type of meeting accessible. In fact, some county officials even said emergency meetings did not have to be open to the public and they refused to allow a reporter to listen to their conversations.
That view not only doesn’t follow state law, it’s also an opaque way of doing the public’s business. A lack of transparency breeds suspicion and erodes faith in elected leaders.
“Horry County has a consistent record of disregard for open government,” Jay Bender, an attorney and expert on the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), said in March.
State law does allow emergency meetings to be held without the 24-hour advance notice that is required for regular meetings. But that doesn’t mean councils can shut out the public, and the law requires specific notice to local news organizations for all meetings.
That’s why what the council did Friday is important. By notifying the public of the meeting and allowing residents to listen in, council members showed they had learned from their earlier mistakes. It’s a positive step and sorely needed.
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge along the Grand Strand, federal, state and local leaders face difficult decisions about how to respond to the pandemic. If the public is to have any faith in elected officials, citizens must be able to see how leaders reach the decisions that impact their lives.
There can be no trust without transparency.