Opinion

Keep public informed

This week's ruling by the S.C. Supreme Court requiring school districts and municipalities to make public the names of candidates for public jobs is a victory for the people of this state.

On Monday, the court ruled unanimously that Spartanburg School District 7 had violated the state Freedom of Information Act in 2003 when it refused to identify five semifinalists for the superintendent's position. The district had argued that state law required only that it reveal the names of the two finalists, but the Supreme Court, upholding a lower court ruling, said state law required the district to reveal the names of at least three of the candidates.

That should send an unambiguous message not only to the Spartanburg school district but also to other districts that have adopted similar tactics in trying to shield the names of superintendent candidates. In 2005, for example, the Richland 1 school board narrowed its superintendent search from 52 candidates to five and held closed-door interviews over several weeks before publicly announcing only two finalists.

Last month, the Clover school district made the names of its three finalists for superintendent public -- but only after school board members had voted to hire one of them. The effect was to keep the public in the dark about the selection process until the new superintendent, Marc Sosne, already have been chosen.

And the attempts to sidestep FOIA regulations are not limited to school boards. Last month, the York County Council met behind closed doors before directing the county staff to offer the job of county manager to Jim Baker. The council had narrowed the pool of candidates to four applicants before choosing Baker, but did not release the names of the other candidates.

These attempts to conduct public business in secret are an affront to the constituents these officeholders were elected to serve. In important decisions such as this, the public has the right to be kept informed throughout the process.

Some argue that revealing the names of job candidates can jeopardize their standing with current employers. A superintendent who might want to move to another district might not want it known that he or she is job hunting.

But in both the public and private sector, it is a given that ambitious professionals are likely to try to move up the ladder. And, typically, they are open about seeking new job opportunities.

Yes, it may be inconvenient at times to involve the public in public business. But requiring public officials to conduct business openly is the only way to make them accountable to constituents.

It is gratifying that the state Supreme Court has clearly spelled that out for reluctant school boards and other public bodies.

IN SUMMARY

State Supreme Court has offered an unambiguous ruling regarding public hiring policy.

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