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Thank you mail carriers

Dear Editor,

I wish to thank all the mail carriers who collected food in the U.S. Postal Drive. The requests for food have doubled in the last year but so far, thanks to Bamberg County people, we have not had to turn anyone away. The Postal Drive was very successful and we received more than last year, with a great variety of food.

Thank you so much, Enid Bishop, Cheeze and Cracker Box

Southern charm and hospitality

Dear Editor,

I was fortunate to visit Denmark today and was so impressed. I am a retired teacher, originally from Allendale, and had an appointment at the District Office to interview for a teaching position. Each and every person I came in contact with showed such special "Southern Charm and Hospitality"! Dr. Sello and Ms. Nimmons treated me like I was royalty and their dedication and enthusiasm touched my heart. What an asset they are to your lovely town. I am certain that the educational future of your school system will flourish under their guidance. The citizens of Denmark have been truly blessed to have them representing the children of your town. They are a class act and an inspiration to all educators.

Susan Mixson Cleveland, Bluffton

FOIA - for your information

Dear Editor,

The S.C. Press Association has conducted a number of Freedom of Information compliance audits over the past decade, and each audit uncovers law enforcement agencies that disregard the law.

The trend continues with several recent events around the state.

A pro golfer is stopped on suspicion of DUI by the Highway Patrol in Horry County , but the dashboard video of the stop isn’t provided in response to a request because the case is “under investigation.”

A city council member in Lancaster has her name redacted from a police report.

The Department of Natural Resources refuses to release reports on boating accidents, including two accidents that killed four people on Lake Murray on one weekend.

A police chief in Columbia refused to release records of a collision between a car being driven by the newly elected mayor and a well known and well liked member of the staff of the dining room where many political leaders of the city and state meet for breakfast.

The most recent S.C. Supreme Court decision in a Freedom of Information Act case ruled in favor of the Charleston Post and Courier, holding that North Charleston’s refusal to provide access to police records on grounds that the case was “under investigation” was a violation of the law. There is no “under investigation” exception to the mandatory disclosure requirements of the FOIA.

The DNR refusal to make boating accident reports available was repudiated by an opinion by the S.C. Attorney General’s office which concluded that the General Assembly had specifically changed the law to make such records public.

What the law enforcement agencies fail to recognize in each of these cases is that they work for the public, and the refusal to make records available for public inspection and copying diminishes public confidence in the work that is being done. In the Columbia case, the credibility of the police department is compromised severely no matter the results of the investigation.

The General Assembly, in enacting the FOIA, stated that the law was to be interpreted in such a fashion that the public and its representatives could learn and report fully on the activities of public bodies, as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

Unfortunately for the reputation of all law enforcement agencies in South Carolina , too many departments act as if they are not answerable to anyone.

If a department is well-run and performing well, it wants its records public.

Departments that are arrogant, incompetent or ineffective want you to go away and stop asking for records. That latter attitude is reflective of a political culture that has existed in South Carolina since the plantation days when a small group in power made decisions and told the rest of the population that the right decision had been made, and that they should like it.

That is the political model that the Freedom of Information Act was designed to eliminate.

Jay Bender, S.C. Press Association Lawyer

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