NA City Council Jan 7, Perry Holcomb (copy)

North Augusta resident Perry Holcomb speaks about the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam during a January 2019 City Council meeting. Holcomb sued the city, claiming a FOIA violation during a May 2018 meeting. 

The city of North Augusta has filed an initial brief in its appeal requesting the reversal of a court order in a lawsuit regarding the Freedom of Information Act.

An order siding with plaintiff Perry Holcomb, a North Augusta resident, was filed Oct. 8, 2019, and the city filed a notice of appeal Jan. 17, 2020.

Holcomb sued the city in November 2018, stating the city, mayor and city council violated FOIA when City Council amended a resolution during a May 2018 meeting.

The initial brief filed by the city on May 26 includes four arguments.

The first is whether the court erred in “construing the amendment of an exhibit of a resolution, already listed on the agenda, as an item that was ‘added to the agenda’” in violation of the Freedom of Information Act, according to the filing.

During that May 2018 meeting, Council unanimously passed an amendment to a resolution listing projects for Capital Projects Sales Tax IV. The amendment added funds to be used for the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam.

The order, signed by judge Clifton B. Newman, states that the city amended the complete agenda when it added the lock and dam project to the list of projects in the resolution. The resolution was included as part of an agenda packet, labeled online as “Agenda 050718 Complete.”

The city’s appeal brief states that the Freedom of Information Act does not address amendment of a resolution or ordinance during a Council meeting.

The second argument in the brief is that the court erred in finding that the background documents posted online with an agenda constituted the meeting “agenda."

The brief cites Black’s Law Dictionary definition as “a list of things to be done, as items to be considered at a meeting, usu. arranged in order of consideration.”

“The agenda,” the brief states, “is not the content of every item listed on the agenda, even if background information is attached.”

The third argument is that the court erred when enjoining the city from “future similar violations,” as written in the October 2019 order.

The appellant brief states the injunction is “prohibitory and permanent and vague.”

The fourth argument states that the circuit court erred in “awarding attorney’s fees as a matter of right in a novel FOIA case and without the six factors findings required by our case law.”

The court ordered in December 2019 that attorney’s fees and costs totaling over $11,300 be awarded to Holcomb. 

Follow Lindsey on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges. 

Lindsey is the North Augusta reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. She graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2017, and grew up in Hodges, SC.