Originally created 12/20/97

Judge: Public can't access vacation records



GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The public has no right to see the records about when county employees take time off, a state judge ruled Thursday.

Circuit Judge Joe Watson refused a request by WYFF-TV to find out when Greenville County Administrator Gerald Seals and his top staff take time off.

Judge Watson based his ruling on Budget and Control Board regulations that say the government needs only disclose the name, position and salary range of its employees. That regulation is at least 10 years old.

Advocates for open government say the regulations predate the state's 1987 public records law and say the decision will turn back the clock on freedom of information to the days when governments shielded much of their operations.

"Unfortunately, there are people in public life in South Carolina who think government is not to be run in the public eye for the public interest," said Jay Bender, an attorney for the South Carolina Press Association."And this gives them another opportunity to avoid public scrutiny."

The state Freedom of Information Act says the exact compensation of agency directors must be open to the public.

WYFF sued the county seeking records about vacation and leave taken by Mr. Seals and directors who oversee several county agencies.

The station filed its original request when some county council members questioned whether Mr. Seals was taking time off or was being paid by the county during private speaking engagements across the nation.

Mr. Seals said Thursday the county is obligated to keep personal information about employees private.

Judge Watson said he could not comment on the decision.

WYFF attorney Wallace Lightsey said the station will appeal to the state Supreme Court.