Fish or Cut Bait

Short is the list of things that transpire with the desired amount of expediency, particularly when those things carry a perceived benefit either to one’s self or to society as a whole. The justice system is no exception, and those seeking relief through its labyrinthine networks often grow frustrated and sometimes old before finding recourse or restitution.

But Monday morning, a Magistrate’s Court judge lit the proverbial fire under the feet of justice, giving the 6th Circuit Solicitor 15 days to either prosecute or drop a case of criminal violation of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act against the president and individual Board members of the Jenkinsville Water Company. Although it took a motion to dismiss by the defense, at least now the matter may be given the appropriate attention by the Solicitor.

And not a moment too soon.

For far too long, the Jenkinsville Water Company Board has topped the list of local public bodies who think that the law somehow does not apply to them; an attitude exacerbated by the fact that the JWC Board does not even believe itself to be a public body. But the FOIA is clear – if a body is supported by even one penny of public funds, as is the JWC, then that body is public. Furthermore, a recent conversation with the S.C. Public Service Commission, which regulates the rates of private utility companies, revealed that they do not regulate the rates of the Jenkinsville Water Company. Either the JWC is public, therefore, or they are putting one over on the PSC.

The Solicitor, meanwhile, has been reluctant to prosecute the case from the outset – and for that he cannot be blamed. For one thing, it is only a misdemeanor. Most certainly, there is a line out the door and around the block of far more grievous cases waiting at the Solicitor’s Office. Cases comprising the entire cast of the bench marked “Group W” from Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” and worse. And it is an unusual case, only the second of its kind in South Carolina, and brings with it certain challenges, not the least of which is proving willful violation.

The Freedom of Information Act is currently the most viable tool by which the public can ensure that their government – from the White House to the local board room – operates in the open, before the very eyes of the electorate. It is not just for newspapers, but for the public at large. It literally puts the “public” into the republic; and without it, democracy is in peril.

And without an aggressive prosecution of its violators, it is a law in name only. We encourage, therefore, the Solicitor to take action, to prosecute fully and earnestly, and to help make public bodies accountable to the public they serve.