Freedom of Information Act Frequently Asked Questions

What is the South Carolina Freedom of Information (“FOIA”) Act?

The South Carolina Code of Laws, Chapter 4 of Title 30 "Public Records" is known as the Freedom of Information Act.  Section 30-4-15 states "The General Assembly finds that it is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that citizens shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in the formulation of public policy. Toward this end, provisions of this chapter must be construed so as to make it possible for citizens, or their representatives, to learn and report fully the activities of their public officials at a minimum cost or delay to the persons seeking access to public documents or meetings."

How do I make a FOIA request?

Any written or verbal request for documents, records, or information coming into a public body’s office should be considered a FOIA request. Submittals may be made via using the following link, submitted in person, written, emailed or faxed.

How do I receive a copy of a drawing, plan, or document that is copyrighted?

A Statement of Agreement is required from the owner, design professional, i.e. Engineer, Architect, etc., must specifically address the consent to Beaufort County for release of the specified copyrighted document(s). After placing a FOIA request, you will be contacted by the department who maintains the document(s) to schedule an appointment to view the copyrighted materials if you wish, but they cannot be reproduced or copied, in whole or apart, without written consent of the design professional.  During your appointment, you may not photograph or video the copyrighted materials and may be asked to leave your electronic device(s) at a desk or in your vehicle.  Pursuant to Title 17 of the Federal law, copyrighted documents may only be obtained under certain circumstances.

Can I request documents to be used for commercial solicitation?

Pursuant to section 30-4-50, a county may restrict further commercial distribution of public documents pursuant to a copyright by requiring anyone requesting the copyrighted documents to sign a licensing agreement acknowledging the copyright on the information and restricting any further commercial use without prior written consent from the county.

How do I request a reconsideration of a Freedom of Information Act request that was previously denied or exempted?

A Requester may submit a request for reconsideration of a denied or exempted request in writing to the Beaufort County’s Legal department within 30 calendar days of receiving the denial or exemption. Please include the FOIA Case Number that you are reconsidering and the reason for your request.  Before doing so, you may wish to contact the FOIA Specialist handling the request. After an independent review, the appropriate department will send you a response advising you of its decision.  A reconsideration is not to limit any other available options provided by law.

How long does the County have to respond to my FOIA request?

The County is afforded 10 days (not including weekends and legal public holidays) of the receipt of the request to notify the person making the request of its determination and the reasons for it; provided, however, that if the record is more than twenty-four (24 months) old at the date the request is made, the public body has 20 days (not including weekends and legal public holidays), of the receipt to make this notification.  

If the records are less than 24 months old, the County must make available the records within 30 calendar days.  If the records are more than 24 months old, wholly or apart, the County must make available the records within 35 calendar days.

"Public record" includes all books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, or other documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body.

"Public body" means any department of the State, a majority of directors or their representatives of departments within the executive branch of state government as outlined in Section 1-30-10, any state board, commission, agency, and authority, any public or governmental body or political subdivision of the State, including counties, municipalities, townships, school districts, and special purpose districts, or any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds, including committees, subcommittees, advisory committees, and the like of any such body by whatever name known, and includes any quasi-governmental body of the State and its political subdivisions, including, without limitation, bodies such as the South Carolina Public Service Authority and the South Carolina State Ports Authority. Committees of health care facilities, which are subject to this chapter, for medical staff disciplinary proceedings, quality assurance, peer review, including the medical staff credentialing process, specific medical case review, and self-evaluation, are not public bodies for the purpose of this chapter.

"Meeting" means the convening of a quorum of the constituent membership of a public body, whether corporal or by means of electronic equipment, to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power.

Pursuant section 30-4-70 (A) A public body may hold a meeting closed to the public for one or more reasons:

(1) Discussion of employment, appointment, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, or release of an employee, a student, or a person regulated by a public body or the appointment of a person to a public body; however, if an adversary hearing involving the employee or client is held, the employee or client has the right to demand that the hearing be conducted publicly. Nothing contained in this item shall prevent the public body, in its discretion, from deleting the names of the other employees or clients whose records are submitted for use at the hearing.

(2) Discussion of negotiations incident to proposed contractual arrangements and proposed sale or purchase of property, the receipt of legal advice where the legal advice relates to a pending, threatened, or potential claim or other matters covered by the attorney-client privilege, settlement of legal claims, or the position of the public agency in other adversary situations involving the assertion against the agency of a claim.

(3) Discussion regarding the development of security personnel or devices.

(4) Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of criminal misconduct.

(5) Discussion of matters relating to the proposed location, expansion, or the provision of services encouraging location or expansion of industries or other businesses in the area served by the public body.

(6) The Retirement System Investment Commission, if the meeting is in executive session specifically pursuant to Section 9-16-80(A) or 9-16-320(C).

(b) Before going into executive session the public agency shall vote in public on the question and when the vote is favorable, the presiding officer shall announce the specific purpose of the executive session. As used in this subsection, "specific purpose" means a description of the matter to be discussed as identified in items (1) through (5) of subsection (a) of this section. However, when the executive session is held pursuant to Sections 30-4-70(a)(1) or 30-4-70(a)(5), the identity of the individual or entity being discussed is not required to be disclosed to satisfy the requirement that the specific purpose of the executive session be stated. No action may be taken in executive session except to (a) adjourn or (b) return to public session. The members of a public body may not commit the public body to a course of action by a polling of members in executive session.

(c) No chance meeting, social meeting, or electronic communication may be used in circumvention of the spirit of requirements of this chapter to act upon a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.

(d) This chapter does not prohibit the removal of any person who wilfully disrupts a meeting to the extent that orderly conduct of the meeting is seriously compromised.

(e) Sessions of the General Assembly may enter into executive sessions authorized by the Constitution of this State and rules adopted pursuant thereto.

(f) The Board of Trustees of the respective institution of higher learning, while meeting as the trustee of its endowment funds, if the meeting is in executive session specifically pursuant to Sections 59-153-80(A) or 59-153-320(C).

Which records are exempt?

The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") exempts certain matters from disclosure.  For a complete list of exemptions under FOIA, please see Section 30-4-40 in the South Carolina Code of Laws here: SC FOIA Exemptions

Additional records are exempted from disclosure by statute or law.

Is there a fee to inspect or copy public records?

Pursuant section 30-4-30: (A)(1) A person has a right to inspect, copy, or receive an electronic transmission of any public record of a public body, except as otherwise provided by Section 30-4-40, or other state and federal laws, in accordance with reasonable rules concerning time and place of access. This right does not extend to individuals serving a sentence of imprisonment in a state or county correctional facility in this State, in another state, or in a federal correctional facility; however, this may not be construed to prevent those individuals from exercising their constitutionally protected rights, including, but not limited to, their right to call for evidence in their favor in a criminal prosecution under the South Carolina Rules of Criminal Procedure.