Public records, as defined by the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act and the Public Records Act include “all . . . documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body.” Therefore, records created and stored electronically must be managed according to the law. S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-20(c); S.C. Code Ann. § 30-1-10. The Public Records Act does not differentiate between types of media; records created or formatted electronically are covered. The South Carolina Department of Archives and History develops and issues records retention schedules to authorize the legal disposition of public records.
In 2007, e-mail messages released pursuant to an open government request seeking information about a deadly fire revealed a close relationship between the city of Charleston and a supposedly independent investigatory panel. The e-mail messages showed that a member of the panel advised the city on how to respond to state workplace safety violations and how to hand-pick firefighters to speak publicly about their experiences in order to fight criticism of the department’s handling of the fire.
A “meeting” under the open meetings laws includes the convening of a quorum of the constituent membership of a public body, whether in person or by means of electronic equipment, to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, or jurisdiction. S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-20(d). No chance meeting, social meeting or electronic communication may be used in circumvention of the spirit of the requirements.