Post Tagged with: "Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce"

Public Monies, Chambers of Commerce and South Carolina Supreme Court

February 5, 2018 8:03 AM
Public Monies, Chambers of Commerce and South Carolina Supreme Court

It has been nearly four months since the South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments in the DomainsNewMedia.com v Hilton Head – Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.

The question before the court deals with whether the Chamber of Commerce is a public body and subject to the provisions of the S. C. Freedom of Information Act.

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC) filed an amicus curiae brief to the S. C. Supreme Court supporting the Hilton Head – Bluffton Chamber of Commerce position.

A Circuit Court judge in Bluffton County ruled in favor of Plaintiff DomainsNewMedia.com finding the Chamber is a public body within the definition of the law.

Actually, the law is quite straightforward. Section 30-4-20 of the S. C. Code of Laws defines a public body subject to the Freedom of Information Act as, “…any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds…”

The Hilton Head – Bluffton Chamber of Commerce receives accommodations tax money from the towns of Hilton Head and Bluffton as well as Beaufort County. The Chamber is the designated marketing organization for these governmental entities to expend the tax funds collected for tourism promotion.

The Chamber claimed before the Court that being the designated marketing organization for those public agencies did not negate its status as a private non-profit corporation not subject to FOIA.

The Chamber does provide a marketing budget and quarterly and year end reports for the public money to the governments involved.

In answer to a question from Justice Few about how a member of the public could find out specific information about the line items in the Chamber’s budget, the attorney for the Chamber suggested they would have to file a FOIA request with the town, who would then go to the Chamber for the specific information.

The argument was not that the public did not have a right to the information, it just didn’t have the right to request the information directly from the agency expending the funds, which is ridiculous.

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Beaufort County Court Decision Could Impact MBACC

March 3, 2016 9:08 AM
Beaufort County Court Decision Could Impact MBACC

A recent court decision in Beaufort County could have an interesting impact in Myrtle Beach.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles ruled the Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce must allow public access to information regarding how the chamber spends public funds under the provisions of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Law.

Hilton Head businessman Skip Hoagland brought a lawsuit for access to the chamber’s records of how public funds are spent. At issue were the accommodations tax monies that the chamber receives from the towns of Hilton Head and Bluffton as well as Beaufort County and grant money from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

The Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce argued its records were not subject to FOIA requests since it is a private, non-profit organization.

In his ruling, Nettles noted the SC Freedom of Information Law defines, “any organization, corporation or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds,” as a public body.

Nettles also noted that while the chamber provides a budget and accounting summary of how those funds are spent, neither provides specific information on, for example, vendors used.

The MBACC receives approximately $5 million per year from City of Myrtle Beach accommodations tax collections and approximately $22 million per year from the city’s one-cent tourism sales tax. In addition, the MBACC receives approximately $6 million from Horry County accommodations tax collections and approximately $5 million or more annually from SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism grants.

The MBACC uses those funds for “out-of-area” tourism marketing. Through the years, the MBACC has been criticized by non-members for giving preferential treatment in its marketing efforts to chamber members even though public funds are being used to fund them.

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