A decision has been made in a lawsuit against the city of North Augusta that claims the city violated the Freedom of Information Act during an action that allocated money toward the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam.
The order, filed on Oct. 8 and signed by presiding judge Clifton B. Newman, states that the defendants – the city, mayor and city council – did violate the Freedom of Information Act.
The order also "enjoins Defendants from future similar violations, and awards Plaintiff reasonable attorney's fees and costs," according to the order.
The complaint, filed by plaintiff Perry Holcomb in November 2018, stated the city violated FOIA when City Council amended a resolution on May 7, 2018. During a meeting that evening, Council unanimously passed an amendment that allocated funds to the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam as part of Capital Projects Sales Tax IV.
The list of projects for CPST IV was included on a document labeled "Agenda 050718 Complete" and was part of a resolution.
The S.C Code of Laws states that "after the meeting begins, an item upon which action can be taken only may be added to the agenda by a two-thirds vote of the members present and voting; however, if the item is one upon which final action can be taken at the meeting or if the item is one in which there has not been and will not be an opportunity for public comment with prior public notice given in accordance with this section, it only may be added to the agenda by a two-thirds vote of the members present and voting and upon a finding by the body that an emergency or an exigent circumstance exists if the item is not added to the agenda."
The November 2018 complaint alleges that City Council did not find that there was emergency or exigent circumstances and that Council did not allow for "adequate consideration and proper comment by the public beforehand."
In an answer to the complaint, filed in December 2018, the defendants denied that the agenda of the meeting was amended at the meeting, stating the plaintiff confused the meeting agenda with the "agenda packet" and that the amendment to the resolution listing the projects was not an amendment to an agenda.
The order states that final action was taken and that the list of projects was amended without making a finding of emergency or exigent circumstances.
"The public and the people who make up the public, like Plaintiff Holcomb, have a right to know," the conclusion to the order begins.
"Taxpayers have a right to know how their government is functioning, They have a right to attend public meetings, to obtain public records at the lowest possible cost and the right to know how the tax money they pay is being spent," it says.
Neither Danny Crowe, who represented the city in the matter, nor Holcomb responded to requests for comment before deadline.