- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) - The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce will appeal a ruling requiring it to release financial information under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, according to an attorney for the chamber.

Attorney Bobby Stepp said he plans to file an appeal to the state Supreme Court this week, The Island Packet of Hilton Head reported (http://bit.ly/21CwOkR ).

“I look forward to taking it to the Supreme Court, because it will be overturned,” he said.

A judge ruled Feb. 22 that a company owned by chamber critic Skip Hoagland is entitled to the information under the law. Hoagland argued the chamber is a public body because it receives tax revenues from local governments to market the area to prospective tourists.

Hoagland said the chamber is using the money to pay high salaries for employees and other uses that are not tourism-related.

“Even if it goes to the Supreme Court, it has vindicated me in a lot of ways,” Hoagland said. “They cannot receive tax money and hide.”

The chamber contends that money is accounted for separately and the chamber should not be considered a public body simply because it handles tourism marketing for local governments.

Stepp said requiring the release of chamber records is government intrusion into a private organization.

“There is no reason for the government to open records to the public unless it is a public body,” he said.

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Information from: The Island Packet, http://www.islandpacket.com

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