Letter and Editorial: GBA coverage
Monday, May 13, 2013
Editor's Note: We are printing this letter from Lynn Mueller as written, even though we believe that it contains factual errors. We encourage letters to the editor, but we believe that writers have a responsibility to be accurate.
We offer comments after Mr. Mueller's letter.
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The Times in the article covering the GBA resignation missed a few FACTS:
• FACT: The MOU with the City requires us to have an advertising agency and CASE resigned. We have none and cannot legally comply.
• FACT: There is a difference between grants to the Rice Museum and a contract with an outside vendor such as CASE.
• FCAT: CASE is not under any definition a Public Body.
• FACT: There are multiple examples of GBA type organizations across the State of South Carolina and none that we could find are designated as Public Bodies.
• FACT: The aggregate amount of money allocated to advertising the City is under $150,000 for the full two years.
• FACT: The clock repair amounted to almost $500,000.
Maybe the Times will now ask the people responsible for that project to give a full accounting, as I ask for in multiple letters and as was reference in the article.
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Note: In response to this e-mail we forwarded a PDF copy of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act booklet prepared by the South Carolina Press Association, along with some comments.
In the beginning part of the booklet there are a variety of definitions. Here's one that applies to the GBA, chambers of commerce and any other entities that spend public funds.
Times reporter Scott Harper gave Mueller a printed copy of the FOIA booklet at a recent GBA meeting, along with another copy to GBA president Al Joseph.
In the booklet an explanation states:
The next section defines a public body. If a body is supported by public funds, even in part, or expends public funds, it is subject to the FOIA. Calling your group or meeting something other than its common name does not relieve it from responsibility. It simply does not matter what the group is called - including study committee, ad hoc committee or advisory committee. It is the composition, not the name, that is the deciding factor. Calling a meeting a "work session" does not exempt it from the FOIA.
The text of the law states:
SECTION 30-4-20. Definitions.
(a) "Public body" means any department of the State, a majority of directors or their representatives of departments within the executive branch of state government as outlined in Section 1-30-10, any state board, commission, agency, and authority, any public or governmental body or political subdivision of the State, including counties, municipalities, townships, school districts, and special purpose districts, or any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds, including committees, subcommittees, advisory committees, and the like of any such body by whatever name known ...
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Thanks and since neither of us is a lawyer I will defer to lawyers and the Courts on this subject as obviously we do not agree.
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The South Carolina Code of Laws has already defined a public body, as outlined in Section 30-4-20. The GBA and CASE Solutions have received $121,000 or more in City of Georgetown public funds. The Code of Laws states any organization by whatever name known that is supported in whole or in part by public funds is a public body and is subject to FOIA.
We don't need to interpret the law. It's plain.
The Times asked Mueller to identify specifically what groups or organizations you say handle public funds that are not public bodies. What is your basis for that statement? What portion of the Code of Laws of South Carolina exempts these as-yet unnamed groups from state law?
Please provide me with the section of state law that verifies your statement.
In recent years, the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce lost a lawsuit to the Sun News over just this sort of issue. Other case law also backs up the state law that says chambers of commerce and other marketing groups that use state funds are public bodies and are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
The GBA and CASE Solutions have received City of Georgetown taxpayer's money and are in sole possession of the vendors' bills and the checks that expend these public funds. Therefore, the GBA and CASE are subject to disclosing how these taxpayer funds have been spent. This is public information.
We have submitted three FOIA requests to the GBA and to CASE Solutions.
The City's own financial report calls for copies of bills or statements and checks for the expenditure of public funds. They have not been provided.
Since you bring up the MOU with the City, please provide the Georgetown Times with a copy of that so we will be able to verify the language you refer to in your letter. An electronic copy is fine.
You have called for public disclosure by others for the expenditure and accountability of public funds. We look forward to your setting the example for other groups that receive and spend public funds.
We are awaiting the full, complete and prompt disclosure of how the GBA and CASE Solutions have handled the public's money.
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Mueller sent a brief e-mail Thursday stating:
"I am not the President of the GBA or the Chamber and do not work for CASE. So I will not be responding to your request."
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Draft minutes of the GBA meeting on Tuesday, May 7, include these opening paragraphs:
"Al began the meeting by stating that the meeting would not follow the agenda previously sent.
"Instead, Al read a statement submitted by Lynn Mueller rescinding the GBA request for ad money for 2013-2014 from the City Council. The statement included a plan to reimburse the City ad money from the City of Georgetown's 2012-2013 budget. Reconciliation of funds will be conducted after June 30, 2013, the conclusion of the City fiscal year, and after already incurred GBA expenditures have been deducted. Al also read a letter from Tonia Spier of Case Solutions stating they are resigning from the account."
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As a general practice, the Georgetown Times does not respond to comments made in letters to the editor.
However, in this case we believe that Mr. Mueller's letter contains numerous factual errors. We are publishing his letter as he submitted it.
We asked him to offer examples or proofs from state law, from court decisions or other factual information. None of that was forthcoming.
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Because of the fact that the Georgetown Business Association has secured $41,000 and then another $80,000 in taxpayer funding for marketing the City of Georgetown, we believe it is important and prudent that the city's own Purchasing Ordinance and procedures be followed.
We have filed three separate Freedom of Information Act requests with the GBA and with CASE Solutions.
As a courtesy, we have copied Mayor Jack Scoville, members of City Council and city administrator Chris Carter on those FOIA requests.
As Mueller stated above, he declines to respond.
For any FOIA request, the law allows 15 business days for a response. There is still time remaining for the GBA in the person of its president Al Joseph to comply with the FOIA requests and provide the information.
An attorney representing CASE Solutions has stated that the advertising agency does not intend to comply with the FOI request.
While some time remains, we respectfully request that the City of Georgetown, Mayor Jack Scoville and members of City Council exert their influence to ensure transparency.
In a nutshell, the Georgetown Times has requested that the GBA comply with openness, follow the requirements spelled out in the city's own reporting documents and let the taxpayers of Georgetown know how their $121,000 dollars has been spent.
-- Tommy Howard, editor