- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


July 29

The Greenville News on transparency in government:

Sometimes school and government officials lose sight of who they work for: the taxpayers. Because government bodies and law enforcement agencies serve and protect citizens, they must conduct their business with transparency.

A week ago, a 22-year-old Piedmont man was killed in a two-car crash involving an Anderson County Sheriff’s Office deputy on S.C. 8. The department was slow to release the name of the deputy involved in the crash and required that the local newspaper file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the office’s policy on police pursuits.

The agency still has not released the deputy’s personnel file.

Greenville Technical College student Joshua Martin was killed in the accident that happened in the Wren community, according to a report in the Anderson Independent Mail.

Officials said the pursuit began when authorities received a report of a stolen car at the 7-Eleven on S.C. 8, and the shortly thereafter, the deputy crashed into a car that was not involved in the chase.

Given that someone died in the accident, the public is bound to have questions. The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office should release as much information as possible about the accident and the deputy involved in it.

In many communities, there is already a distrust of law enforcement officials. Recent national incidents, such as the death of a 40-year-old Australian woman shot by a police officer in Minneapolis after she called to report a possible sexual assault, serve to highlight that mistrust. In that case, the police officer in question was wearing a body camera but the camera was not turned on.

Recent changes to South Carolina’s open records laws have improved citizens’ ability to get information from public bodies in a more timely fashion, said Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association.

“The law is pretty decent, it was just reformed this year,” said Rogers. “But the law is no good unless people follow it.”

Officials should always err on the side of transparency, especially when there is an accident or shooting that results in injury or death, says Rogers. “Withholding stuff is a public relations nightmare because (officials) appear guilty even if they are not,” he said.

Changes to the open records law also reduce the time that a public body has to release a document once it is requested and caps the time at 30 days so information cannot be withheld for a long period of time.

Agendas for public meetings cannot be amended within 24 hours unless there is a two-thirds vote for the change. That allows citizens enough time to plan to attend a meeting about something they care about.

Last week, Greenville County Councilman Joe Dill alleged that some of his fellow council members have held secret meetings where a quorum of council met to discuss an issue. Another council member denied the allegation.

The law is clear: public business should be conducted in public with proper notice and the personnel files of city, county and state employees should be open. “There have been a number of court cases to that effect but I think (agencies withhold the files) to avoid embarrassment in many cases,” said Rogers.

“The taxpayers are the owners of government and they have a right to know how it is being operated.”

School officials are often the worst offenders. “They deal with the biggest local budgets and they deal with people’s lives but they want to do it behind closed doors,” said Rogers.

A lack of transparency only serves to erode trust. Public officials must be accountable to the public on all matters.

Online: https://www.greenvilleonline.com/


July 30

The Post and Courier of Charleston on better protections for SCE&G; ratepayers:

With two new nuclear reactors billions of dollars over budget, years behind schedule and in danger of being abandoned entirely, one would think that SCE&G; would be reeling financially, far beyond even the dramatic stock dip its parent company SCANA suffered on Friday. At least that would be the case for any company that so spectacularly bungled a multi-billion dollar investment.

But SCE&G; is not a normal company. And according to numbers released late last month, investors earned a healthy 9 percent for the year ending March 31.

In other words, SCE&G; has so far remained comfortably profitable despite the fact that the perpetually problematic construction of two new reactors has reached such a level of crisis that the company may be forced to quit the project entirely.

Part of the problem is that unlike most businesses, SCE&G; has an incentive to spend as much money as possible regardless of whether increased expenditures are actually needed or wise.

That’s because the state Public Service Commission (PSC) regulates the percentage of return on investment the company can earn, but not the actual dollar value. Right now, SCE&G; is allowed to earn up to a 10.25 percent return on common equity.

Ten percent of a multi-billion dollar nuclear reactor investment is a lot more than 10 percent of a $250 million natural gas plant, so the utility has an obvious financial motive to go big rather than playing it safe.

Worse, in 2007, the state Legislature passed an incredibly misguided piece of legislation that removed any remaining barriers to that perverse financial incentive to spend more money by forcing ratepayers to shoulder all of the financial risk involved in massive new capital projects.

The Base Load Review Act means that SCE&G; can charge customers up front for financing costs related to the new nuclear reactors - and any future generating projects - and keep charging them well into the future even if those new plants never generate a single watt of electricity.

And given the bankruptcy of the nuclear project’s chief contractor Westinghouse, that looks like a very real possibility. SCE&G; and project partner Santee Cooper are expected to announce in the next few days whether or not they will complete the reactors.

Already, SCE&G; customers pay nearly 20 percent of their monthly bills to finance construction on the new reactors. They’re going to keep paying more no matter what - either for a few billion dollars in construction costs if the projects are abandoned or for as much as $20 billion if they’re completed.

Meanwhile, SCE&G; shareholders can probably expect the same roughly 10 percent return every year while ratepayers suffer.

A bill currently before the Legislature would amend the Base Load Review Act to hand greater regulatory power to the PSC and remove some of the financial risk ratepayers currently bear. Lawmakers should speed its passage, especially if SCE&G; decides to ditch the reactor plan and build something else instead.

The door should be closed to any similar mistake.

Utilities should know that their top responsibility is to the ratepayers of South Carolina, and build generating capacity with customers - rather than profits - in mind.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com/


August 1

The Index-Journal of Greenwood on a cellphone pilot program:

Mark Sanford is correct. Something has to be done to address the prevalence of cellphones among inmates in our prisons. It has long been a problem that has not been adequately addressed, and giving South Carolina the opportunity to take the lead is worth a try.

In calling on the Federal Communications Commission to allow states to jam cellphone signals, the Lowcountry congressman cited the escape of Jimmy Causey from Lieber Correctional, a maximum-security facility here in South Carolina. Matters could have turned out far worse, but Causey was eventually captured in Texas. Authorities believe a drone was used to drop tools inside the facility, all orchestrated after a cellphone was smuggled in to the inmate.

The FCC does not allow states to use cell signal jamming technology and the cellphone carriers themselves have lined up in protest, saying nearby legal phone users could inadvertently be affected and that 911 calls could also be impeded. The so-called experts should know what elements of these arguments are true and there is little doubt the FCC has its reasons for keeping the technology close to the chest. That said, however, South Carolina is simply asking the FCC to it to conduct a signal jamming pilot program. Obviously, the FCC would be involved and kept abreast of how the program is running.

What’s more, South Carolina should have a friend on the commission. Mignon Clyburn, daughter of another U.S. congressman, Jim Clyburn, might exercise a bit of clout here and push for launching the pilot program. Certainly no one wants legal residents of this or any state to lose the ability to use their cellphones, whether in day-to-day use or in an emergency. Today, cellphones are essential communications tools, surpassing the use of land lines. So it is highly likely that any pilot program will be designed to ensure it accomplishes that which is being sought, which is to keep prisoners in prison, unable to orchestrate escapes and crimes committed on the outside while maintaining the safety and freedoms legal residents deserve.

Much can be lost by not at least exploring the viability of a state-run jamming initiative aimed solely at inmates. Much might also be gained, for the safety of hundreds upon hundreds within the prisons and, certainly, on the outside.

Online: https://www.indexjournal.com/

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