Monday, March 11th, 2019
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Sunshine Week begins today. This is a week we like to highlight the critical role of open government and freedom of information at the local, state, and federal levels. Truth comes through an open and transparent government that anyone can access.
In 2018, the I-Team submitted 228 open records requests. Public records do not forget or lie. It serves as the backbone to our investigations and creates change.
A young single mother and her children were left homeless after she leased a home with a gas leak and other life threatening code violations. An open records request to Richmond County Code Enforcement showed their inspectors were not always re-inspecting rentals which lead to tenant after tenant moving into unsafe homes. The result of our open records request lead to a new code enforcement follow up policy, stiffer penalties on bad landlords, and judges considering code enforcement history before ruling on eviction cases.
Law enforcement seemed to look the other way when our I-Team started digging into local pool contractors but they could not ignore what we kept uncovering. So far, three contractors have been arrested ten times in six counties. We used open records requests to look at permits, violations, and citations to uncover a pattern of problems. Columbia County has now changed its licensing requirements for pool contractors.
A veteran told our I-Team people with disabilities were having a hard time getting to voting precincts because the sidewalks were not handicap friendly.
We used open records to show you all the accessibility issues, not just at voting polls, but across the county. They county assembled panel of department heads to meet with the Richmond County Board of Elections to discuss the problems our stories highlighted. They have vowed to fix problem spots.
A mom told our I-Team her son didn't know what to do if an active shooter came onto campus. We filed an open records request to find out whether schools in Richmond County were practicing lockdown drills. We found only five out of 56 had practiced. The school district later said their documentation was wrong and
16 had practiced, still, less than a third of students. Now, every school practices an active shooter drill three times a year -and all teachers and staff have been trained on active shooter response.
Lawyers and journalists file open records everyday but the law wasn't created for us. It was created for you, the public! On Tuesday, Meredith will show you how open records can help you make more informed decisions about housing, schools and even hairdressers.